Saturday, June 28, 2008

MN-24-B : Honk For Tony Cornish

State Representative Tony Cornish (R-24-B) has the perfect vehicle for a rural legislator in perpetual campaign mode -- a Ford pick-up truck complete with an ample number of “Support the Troops” ribbons, a collection of decals that lets everyone know that he likes Ducks Unlimited, a placard with his picture and “Re-Elect Tony Cornish” on both side panels, and a single bumper sticker.

The bumper sticker is not a “John McCain for President, even though he is one of McCain’s original members of Team Minnesota.
The bumper sticker is not a “Dr. Brian Davis for Congress” as Cornish endorsed Randy Demmer.
The bumper sticker is not a “Coleman for Senate” … maybe he wants to drive the bus?
No, the bumper sticker says “HONK if you want to pay Higher Taxes”.

It’s great campaign rhetoric, but the wrong question is being asked.
It should say “HONK if you want FAIR Taxes”.

It’s not a question of whether any of us want to pay more taxes, but is the current tax system FAIR to all income groups ?

A quick look at Table 1-8 on page 20 and Table 2-2 on page 27 of the 2007 Minnesota Tax Incidence Study tells us that some are paying more and some are paying less. The study divided 2,363,258 households into ten equally weighted groups and then determined breakpoints by household incomes.

Group 1 Income of $10,175 and under Paid 19.3 % in taxes
Group 2 Income of $16,816 max paid 11.4 % in taxes
Group 3 $23,135 paid 10.9 %
Group 4 $29,766 paid 12.0 %
Group 5 $37,559 paid 12.6 %
Group 6 $47,192 paid 12.4 %
Group 7 $59,748 paid 12.3 %
Group 8 $76,437 paid 12.4 %
Group 9 $105,450 paid 12.4 %
Group 10 $105,451 and more paid 10.8 %
Overall the Total Group tax rate was 11.7 % meaning that because of the highest earners, the overall rate looks lower, but most of us are not in that income pool.

The Top 5 % (representing just 118,195 taxpayers) began income at $146,809 paid 10.4 % in taxes, while the Top 1 % (23,668 taxpayers) begain income at$354,758 paid only 9.3 % in taxes.

The obvious inference is that those with the greatest ability to pay actually contribute the least. Actually, there really isn’t any significant difference for most of us until the $100,000 threshold is reached … then the tax burden starts reducing.

Fair … you decide !

Will the next legislature address taxes ?
More than likely, but will it be any fairer ?
One group will most likely get a hearing is business since Governor Tim Pawlenty (R) has initiated a 21st CENTURY TAX REFORM COMMISSION. Business taxes contribute 22.6% to the State’s operating revenues, so if there is a reduction in business taxes, the funds will have to made up by somebody … or services cut.

The difference between taxpaying citizens and business is that taxpayers pay based on wages while a business pays based on profitibality ... its a fair system, unfortunately, with today's tight economy many businesses will be reporting lower profits (or even losses) ... the result is lower tax payments from the business component.

And will other operating costs go up …if you think about the price of gasoline in your vehicle, how do you think that price increase impacts all the state vehicles from snow plows to school buses.

Face it, the State is looking at difficult times ahead.
Will our legislators make changes that create a Fairer system ?

Let me offer one proposal that in and of itself would not be a tax increase but instead an elimination of a tax break. Currently, Minnesota Income Taxes follows the Federal Tax Code and allows contributions to retirement accounts (i.e. 401k) to be excluded from income, since it will be taxed when it is withdrawn. That would be fair if the monies are earned in Minnesota and the person spends their retirement years in Minnesota … if they move out of the state, then those deferred dollars might be taxable income in the other state …. in other words, Minnesota loses. The 2008 401K contribution limits for employee contributions is a maximum of $15,500 which many companies restrict to a maximum of 10% of wages. For example, if the wage was $40,000 then the max would be $4,000 deferred which may mean an additional $282 in taxes this year (but when the deferred dollars are used the full $4000 would not be taxable); if the wage was $354,758 then the maximum would be $15,500 or $1093 in increased tax payments. If you do not participate in a 401k plan, then there would be no impact. This small change would help the state now.

But one thing voters know about Representative Cornish is that he does not like taxes. His votes against the gas tax, the bonding bill and the omnibus tax bill indicate a strong support for the current system. Not necessarily a Fair Tax system but one that the affluent must appreciate.

I don’t know if Cornish will have any competition from the DFL, Independence or Green Parties, but this voter will be anxiously waiting to hear their tax policies.

In the meantime, I’m on the lookout for a bumper sticker for my Ford pick-up that says “HONK if you REJECT Tony Cornish”.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Walz Rated Top Impact Congressman – Could Sarvi Be Next ?

Those of us in the First District have seen how Congressman Tim Walz operates --- over a dozen formal listening sessions to discuss the Farm Bill, many more sessions addressing veterans issues, seniors issues, health care, and the economy and too many to mention “Hy-Vee” grocery store “constituents meetings” throughout the First District. No doubt that has left an impact on how voters will rate the Congressman’s performance in November’s elections, but the impact that is truly being felt is Walz’s impact on the national agenda.

How Walz has voted on various issues is in stark contrast to the First District’s former Representative Gil Gutknecht. Gutknecht was a “RoveRobot” voting however the Party managers instructed. Walz, on the other hand, has not been afraid to bolt from his Party Leaders … most recently on the FISA vote and Iraq Supplemental.
It’s that contrast that earned Walz the top ranking.
It’s not about Party loyalty … it’s about your conviction to the issues.
Party bosses may compromise for expediency sake, but if you are committed to a progressive, responsible government, you bolt the party.
While some voters based their votes based on Party endorsement, I am an independent who votes on my issues --- a fair tax policy, a fiscally responsible budget that does not burden the next generation, a foreign policy that embraces dialogue not sanctions, a health care system that benefits people not investors in the medical industry, etc.
Essentially, a progressive responsible government.

Recently, a study was done that looked at the impact of the change caused by the 2006 elections. Walz’s progressive, responsible votes were contrasted with Gutknecht’s faux-fiscal conservative, Bush-backing votes and the difference was the largest in all the comparisons from the 109th to the 110th Congress. That doesn’t mean that the First District is the most liberal in the America; instead, it illustrates how “conservative” Gutknecht voted versus moderate Walz.

It’s that change that can cause real impact in the direction of the government. The underlying premise in Boots On commentary to throw Norm Coleman under the bus, is that Coleman is not in sync with the Conservative ideology and that Al Franken would have no more of an impact than Coleman. Much the same as when Keith Ellison replaced Martin Sabo, the votes would have been the same.

That’s where Steve Sarvi comes in.

Walz’s efforts for a more responsible government are impacted by the hardcore Conservatives like John Kline. Based on the same analysis tools cited above, Minnesota’s Second District is rated as the tenth most impactable. The fact that it rated 10th is insignificant, since the question has to be factored in whether the underdog can actually beat the incumbent. For example, the highest ranked impact election involves Orange County Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) seeking his eleventh term. And based on primary voting and previous elections, it seems to be a Solid Republican District. Now, Kline on the other hand is seeing a district that is moving away from embracing the Conservative agenda and toward a progressive approach to government.

The best way to help Tim Walz move the country in a more responsible progressive way is to help Steve Sarvi unseat John Kline. Walz has demonstrated leadership and resolve on many issues, but he needs more like-minded responsible progressive to join him in representing Minnesota and the nation.

Politics Trumps Governance UPDATE : Republicans Delay (?) Earmark Proposal

I know I should lose some weight, exercise more and eat healthier, but why start now ?
I thought about maybe a New Year’s resolution, but why commit to that now ?

Following up on earlier commentary, The Hill reports “The Senate Republican Conference will wait until at least July to consider long-awaited reforms to the earmarking process.
From January to April to June and now til July – more proof that the GOP realizes that there are problems with “pork-barrel projects” but that “pork-barrel projects” may be beneficial for re-election purposes. They can blame it on “the heavy business awaiting Senate action before the Fourth of July” (funny, but Bush warned us about the dangers without his FISA bill, but that vote won’t be until July 8 even though the Senate voted overwhelming to move to final vote … what is the Senate working on?), but since the “earmark” proposal has been pending for so long, they just don’t want to address it before November's election. The fact is that the Senate is in the middle of the Appropriations review process (the HHS-Labor-Education, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Homeland Security budgets are done but the DOD mega-budget and others are in review).
Why don't they admit it, they don’t want to operate under any scrutiny now.
Under existing procedures, things can be done. For example, remember the Farm bill and how Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell included $60 to $70 million in tax breaks for the horse racing industry. His authorization would be deemed by most as “pork-barrel” spending.

Minnesotans can tell the difference between “pork-barrel projects” and a justified “earmark” … just ask any of the Minnesota county engineers who say that 70% of the Minnesota’s roads and bridges are worse off than they were ten years ago.

Let me be clear, earmarks are not implicitly bad.
We need transparency and agreement between state and federal governments on which projects are best needed.
That takes leadership.
Good leadership is exemplified by First District Representative Tim Walz (D-MN) and 45 other Representatives who have embraced transparency.
But the “political” fears of acknowledging “earmarks” is impacting good governance.
Poor leadership (is that an oxymoron?) is exemplified by Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN).
Read the letters between Fourth District Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) and the Governor over “acknowledging” $165,000,000 worth of earmarks that the Pawlenty administration requested from her office for FY2009 authorizations. The projects being discussed include transportation projects and federal funding for the Minnesota National Guard.

Transparency and common sense spending is at stake … not political points to be used in election year campaign speeches.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In an Obama Administration Will Republicans Defend Article 1 ?

This election season has brought attention to what is being worn – or not worn – on a candidate’s lapel.
Have you noticed if your Congressman(woman) is wearing an “Article 1” button ?

There has been a movement for members of Congress to take a pledge to be “pork-free” and in Minnesota there are currently two of the 46 who have sworn off earmarks – that would be Congressman John Kline (MN-02) and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (MN-06).

As a fiscal conservative, I applaud the effort to eliminate “pork-barrel” projects, but there is a vast difference between “pork-barrel” spending and “earmarks”.
What Kline and Bachmann are doing is shirking their Article 1 responsibilities and allowing the Executive Branch the power to spend funds as they deem appropriate.

Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-03) is reminding his colleagues of their Article 1 duties by offering lapel buttons. It may seem to be purely for show, yet the message is clear … Congress authorizes the monies. Note specifically Section 8 and a couple of the important passages “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, …” [snip] “To establish Post Offices and Post Roads …” [snip] and Section 9 “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law;” [snip]

Minnesotans know all to well of the conditions of our roads and bridges … ( I-35 Bridge is not the only problem … Kline’s district has the Hasting bridge and Bachmann’s district has the DeSoto Bridge). Without someone advocating earmarks for those repairs, other Congressman’s projects will be funded first.
First District Congressman Tim Walz has the right approach “Minnesota sends more money to Washington that it gets back, and it’s appropriate for us to advocate for the good use of tax dollars (in the district.)”
All Minnesotans need to be concerned about this as the State’s ability to attract and maintain businesses is predicated on its physical infrastructure.

And in 2009, when the next Congress convenes, there is a bigger problem. The Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is projected to have a deficit of as much as $5 billion. As a result of how highway projects are funded, this could mean a one-third reduction of highway and transit spending. That deficit will be compounded even more as the cost of gasoline has resulted in a drop in miles traveled … the driving milage drop has only exacerbated a problem, not created it. The HTF is funded almost exclusively by the 18.3 cents per gallon taxes paid on gasoline and 24.8 cents per gallon tax on diesel by the nation’s drivers and truckers. So will Congress use it’s Section 8 responsiblities and increase taxes to fund these need investments … and will the Minnesota delegation have members that make sure we get our monies returned back to the State?

Earmarks are not the problem … “pork-barrel” projects are.
With the projected shortfall and the increased needs, do you want the next President to decide how monies should be spent ? Those members of Congress that sign the “earmarks” pledge are not being responsible or responsive.
As voters evalute incumbents, they should look for the “Article 1” button and ask them if they are willing to embrace transparency in earmark funding. If so, they should get your vote.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Will John Kline Lobby Norm Coleman on Earmark Proposal

Have you made your 2009 New Year’s Resolution yet ?

Well, according to The Hill, the Senate Republican are scheduled to discuss a conference-wide rule change and policy statement regarding earmarks on Tuesday.

So, will John “Pork-Free” Kline lobby Norm “Minnesota’s $10,780,000 Man” Coleman ?
Will it make any difference ?

Well, first of all, the changes would take effect the first day of the next Congress. This is not the first time Republicans have tried this joke before as some Republicans called for a six month moratorium on earmarks … what a joke … we have a Fiscal Year … all the money gets authorized at year end, so what would 6 months due ?

This meeting is a result of a meeting at the beginning of the year which was reported by Roll Call.
Senate Republicans outlined a modest election-year agenda Wednesday based on the cooperative, bipartisan approach that new Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) has pushed while avoiding issues like immigration and earmark reform that have caused rifts within the party.
Republican leaders … made it clear during the retreat that they would not support any effort by President Bush to strip earmarks from this year’s omnibus bill and saw no need to overhaul the practice … arguing any move {by Bush} to eliminate the earmarks would be an inappropriate infringement on Congress’ authority to appropriate funding.
A Senator attending the retreat said later, "to the extent that the floor was open I didn't hear much opposition... I kept expecting to hear someone say 'yeah but earmarks are evil,' but I didn't."

Also, The Washington Examiner writes
House Republican Whip Roy Blunt R-MO, has reportedly warned administration officials that meddling with earmarks will anger GOP members who are responsible for 40 percent of those in the 2008 spending bills.”

Republicans, based on their votes and comments by party leaders, are not serious about ending the use of earmarks.
And they shouldn’t.
All earmarks are not pork barrel spending. Without earmarks, the Executive Branch can spend funds as they deem appropriate.
For example, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention which issued grants to youth golf programs and other projects--often run by administration cronies.
Or, the $350 to $500 million spent on Al-Hurra -- "The Free One" –US sponsored Arabic television.
Or, even $2.4 million for COMIC BOOKS !

There are plenty of “projects” that should be carefully reviewed, that’s why transparency and accountability are important.

The Republican Senators policy change is just an election year campaign trick to garner some media attention … and like many New Year’s Resolutions will be long forgotten by mid-2009.

John Kline’s pork-free diet has only cost the State getting a fair return on the monies that Minnesota taxpayers have sent to Washington.

Friday, June 20, 2008

MN-02 : Does John Kline put his money where his mouth is ?

Republican Congressman John Kline (MN-02) wrote “Some say America has an addiction to oil. What is abundantly clear is our addiction to foreign oil, which is not only an economic issue but also a national-security concern.”

This view is echoed by Republican-endorsed First District candidate, Dr. Brian Davis with the warning that “If you’re like me, knowing that our economy is partly dependent on countries like Venezuela, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia is troublesome. Just imagine the potential disastrous consequences if several of these countries were to cut off our supply of oil.”

For these Republicans, the message being sent is that America is in peril as too much of our oil comes from countries whose governments may not be reliably friendly to the United States.

Interestingly, MinnPost reviewed the Financial Disclosure statement of these candidates and reported
“Rep. John Kline reported assets between $253,000 and $720,000, including a Russian investment fund valued between $1,000 and $15,000.

Dr. Brian Davis, who reported a salary of $411,720 in 2007. His wife also received a salary from the Mayo Clinic totaling $52,009.31 in 2007. Davis holds between $2000 and $30,000 in Pfizer stock. Overall, his assets total between $244,000 and $710,000.”

Dr. Davis owning stock in a US headquartered pharmacetical company would not be surprising. Many people’s investment strategy is based on Peter Lynch’s principle of investing in companies that are intimately familiar.

But why would John Kline make an investment in ING Russia Fund ? The ING Russia Fund is composed of 47.8% investment in the oil and gas industry. Once again, many people’s investment strategy includes global investments … not a bad strategy considering the weak US dollar. But Russia ? An investment that is tied exclusively to a single country ?

Admittedly, Russia is not officially in the “Axis of Evil” but since Kline likes to remind voters that during the Cold War, he carried the “nuclear football” that contained the President's launch codes used for nuclear attack, it is surprising that it is where he would make a direct investment.
Yet, he did.
On September 12, 2006, Congressman Kline sold two mutual funds and purchased a number of other funds including the ING Russia Fund.
Once again, a good move to re-position your investments.
But why Russia ?
The dollar amount of his investment is immaterial, it's the message that he values investments in Russia over US or other countries.

Russia and America have a number of disagreements – from the US plans to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic to Russia’s stance at sanctions against Iran.
Yet, Davis’ warning has been used by Russia. Moscow's sudden cut in gas to Ukraine this winter was Russia using energy as a lever, a weapon or, in Vice President Dick Cheney's words, "a tool of intimidation and blackmail".

It's not just Saudi Arabia that supplies America's oil --- many countries do. As Mexico's productions slow, Russia has increased its shipments to America. What they do with American dollars could be what Congressman Kline means when he raises the fears of "a national-security concern.”

I ask again, WHY does John Kline wish to invest his money in Russia ? It’s his right, but quite surprising.

Then again, maybe Kline is planning for his “retirement years.” After all, as the Rochester Post Bulletin reported on November 28, 2007, former First District Congressman Gil Gutknecht “ serves as a consultant or is involved with six different companies, he said. He is also involved in conducting market research in Russia and drops hints about an energy deal in the works that could make headlines in the Wall Street Journal.” Ah, I guess there is always a career for Congressman after they leave office.

I suppose the lesson is that we should consider diversifying our portfolio from American companies to the ING Russia Fund. After all, Congressman Kline is an advocate of privatizing Social Security, so maybe it’s follow the leader time.

And a sidebar comment about Dr. Davis.
Voters, such as me, must wonder why someone would want take a pay cut of over $240,000 ?
Will he work for Middle Class working families or vote to maintain low tax rates for the doctors and others in the "country club crowd" ?
Would his votes embrace PAYGO, as Congressman Tim Walz advocates, or will his votes reflect increasing the national debt ?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Want Lower Prices ? Reduce the Ethanol Tariff !

Watching the devastation impacting farmlands in Iowa and the surrounding states is a stark foretelling that food prices will increase.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released CPI data for the first quarter of this year showing food and beverage prices rising at an annualized, seasonally adjusted rate of 5.1 percent.
“Federal food-to-fuel mandates have led to over one quarter of corn to be diverted from food to ethanol production, driving up the price of corn and other commodities to historic highs,” was the immediate reaction from Scott Faber, vice president for Federal Affairs at the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “These rates will only increase following the USDA’s report that farmers will plant less corn in the coming year. Before these effects spread further across our economy and around the world, Congress should take immediate action by revisiting food-to-fuel mandates.”

Faber’s assertions can be debated, but with Congressional mandating the use of ethanol, there is a demand yet the cost of corn is actually delaying the opening of two brand new VeraSun facilities in Welcome MN and Hartley IA. Clark Fredericksen said "I think the ethanol industry, as a whole as some of these new plants come on are going to look at whether the margins are profitable enough to start right now, at the price of corn, or would they be better off, cost effective to delay them, until the price of corn eventually does come back down."
That’s millions of gallons of ethanol that these facilities may not produce this year … as well as jobs.

Congress’ ethanol mandate impacting prices has been a concern since First District Congressman Gil Gutknecht was promoting his 10/10 Act (10% ethanol by 2010). I contacted Gutknecht suggesting that H.R. 4409 The Fuel Choices for American Security Act of 2005 seemed to be a better bill. Included in H.R. 4409 was a 10 % ethanol requirement with a deadline of 2015, but also many more provisions; such as vehicle efficiency improvement, promoting hybrid technology, and requiring a 20% petroleum reduction by 2015 for vehicles used by federal agencies. H.R. 4409 had a broad group of 83 co-sponsors including many fiscal conservative members. Gutknecht wrote me that he has concerns with H.R. 4409 since it would repeal the tariff on imported ethanol. We do not want to be replacing foreign oil with foreign ethanol. I believe we should produce as much ethanol domestically as possible.

Despite all of Congress’ efforts, ethanol domestic production is struggling.

Since Congress has enacted mandates, foreign markets may be part of the answer. Unfortunately, foreign ethanol is subject to a 54-cents-per-gallon tariff and a 2.5 percent duty.

Ben Lieberman of the Heritage Foundation wrote “Consumers would benefit if the market—not special-interest politics—decided how much ethanol to use and where it should come from.

May I remind everyone that is advocating drilling in ANWR or the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) that those projects will take years (maybe decades before meaningful production is achieved) but eliminating the ethanol tariff could impact supply and prices immediately … plus allow more corn to be used in foodstuff.

The efforts to make America “independent of foreign producers” should be a grave concern to all free market advocates and a trend toward an Isolationist Worldview and that is troubling in a global economy.
George Bush warned during his State of the Union address that “America rejects the false comfort of isolationism.
Isolationism would not only tie our hands in fighting enemies, it would keep us from helping our friends in desperate need.
In a dynamic world economy, we are seeing new competitors, like China and India, and this creates uncertainty, which makes it easier to feed people's fears. So we're seeing some old temptations return. Protectionists want to escape competition, pretending that we can keep our high standard of living while walling off our economy. … We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy -- even though this economy could not function without them. (Applause.) All these are forms of economic retreat, and they lead in the same direction -- toward a stagnant and second-rate economy.

We need to remember that Canada is America’s leading importer of crude oil. Mexico is number three. With Iraq as number six, the question begs to be asked: Why are American troops in the middle of a civil war to determine the future of Iraq yet some people are advocating that America become "oil independent"? How will the Iraqi economy advance, if America is not an active trading partner?

In the world economy, remember the words of Baron de Montesquieu who wrote in his 1748 work, The Spirit of the Laws, “Peace is the natural effect of trade. Two nations who traffic with each other become reciprocally dependent; for if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling: and thus their union is founded on their mutual necessities.”

Closing our ports to foreign trade will hurt America in the long run.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

MN-02 : Lonely Kline Votes Against Gas Price Relief

Why does John Kline stand alone against the Gas Price Relief for Consumers Act of 2008 ?

When 7 out of 8 members of the Minnesota’s Congressional delegation agree that a piece of legislation would be good, why doesn’t John Kline ?
That’s right, Michelle Bachmann, Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum, Jim Oberstar, Colin Peterson, Jim Ramstad and Tim Walz, all voted for HR 6074 … but not John Kline.
In fact a majority of Republicans and Democrats voted for this legislation … but not John Kline.

Why ?

I suppose there could be many reasons … in fact 10,390,091 reasons … if you believe that the donations to Republicans by the oil and gas industry could be good reasons.

But why would Minnesotans be surprised when after all Kline voted against the HR 5351 Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008 and H.R.3221: New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security, and Consumer Protection Act.

I guess that the wind, biomass, geothermal, and hydropower industries don’t have $10,390,091 available as contributions for political campaigns.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Why Do Bachmann and Kline Oppose Using the FUT Reserve ?

It’s the economy, stupid !

This election season, that old mantra is being spoken by the voters but some of our politicians do not hear it.

Foreclosures, Gas Prices, Food Prices, Health Care Costs … their all going UP … but what is going DOWN is also a concern – employment.

The Department of Labor reported last week that the advance number for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending May 31 was 3,139,000 versus 2,500,000 for the same period one year ago.

That’s a lot of families.
If they are out of work, the impact is on all of us. More foreclosures potentially putting property tax payments in arrears. There is a strain on food shelves and health care systems. Financial strains can lead to emotional strains.

Long ago, Congress set up a system to address this. If a worker is terminated, unemployment benefits may be available for a certain period of time. Once the benefits are exercised, you’re on your own.

Considering the current unemployment level and uneasy economic environment, Congress debated extending the benefit period by thirteen weeks.
Last week, the House voted twice on HR 5749 – Emergency Extended Unemployment Compensation Act of 2008. The final vote Roll Call 403 passed with sufficient number of Republicans and Democrats to override a veto if one was used. Voting in favor of this legislation was Republican Jim Ramstad (MN-03) and all Democrats … voting against this were Republicans Michelle Bachmann (MN-06) and John Kline (MN-02).

As a fiscal conservative, my first question is how will this benefit be paid ?
I opposed the Economic Stimulus prebate as it was paid by adding to the national debt … however I note that Bachmann and Kline supported that legislation. In a press release, Kline stated “The best way to move our economy forward is to allow Minnesotans to keep more of what they earn and to spend on what is important to their families.” So to Kline, the message is to spend today regardless of that the future generations will have to pay.

In this instance funding for unemployment benefits will not be an add-on to the national debt.
Because the Federal Unemployment Tax Trust Fund is currently overfunded at $35 billion dollars. Extending the unemployment benefits would cost $12 billion dollars over 10 years. FYI : A FUT payment is made by your employer based on the first $7000 of wages with most employers paying $42 per employee per year. In fact, as those workers become employed, the FUT Trust Fund will be repaid.

Extending unemployment benefits has the potential to help the entire American economy. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it is one of the most cost-effective and fast-acting ways to stimulate the economy because the money is spent quickly. For every $1 spent on unemployment benefits generates $1.64 in new economic demand.

This makes so much sense, so why would Bachmann and Kline be opposed to it?

The only reason that makes sense to me is that they realize that if they take money from the FUT Trust Fund to pay for what it was intended (Unemployment Benefits), then they cannot use those monies to help offset other spending. This is the same problem as when Congress borrows from the Social Security Trust Fund.

If Kline is truly concerned about getting our economy moving and creating more jobs, the extending the unemployment benefits using the overfunded reserve will do that.

This legislation will go the Senate next and then on to the President. Since Bush may veto this, please contact the offices of Congresswoman Bachmann and Congressman Kline to express your concerns.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Politico Bachmann Puff-piece Fails on Follow-up Questions

Daniel Libit of Politico was granted an interview
with Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN-06). Since the Congresswoman is very selective about who gets interviews, it is disappointing that such a well-regarded news service would not confront her answers with her votes.

From the article, she responds to a question of what she will do when she gets back home :
Bachmann: … Every weekend now when I go home, I will go to the grocery store, I’ll buy food for the family. We have five kids and 23 foster kids that we raise. So I go to the grocery store and buy a lot of food.
Politico: How much is your bill usually?
Bachmann: Oh, coupons, generic brands, I don’t get the fluff. I’m just buying staples. It’s always boring when Mom goes to shop, the kids like when Dad goes to shop. And it was $79 for three bags of groceries, and I went home and told my husband, "I just feel for families of young children right now, because energy has had a direct impact for increases in the prices of food."

Let’s ignore the implication that there are 28 children at her table, and focus on how she “feel for families of young children right now.”

In all our communities there are families struggling … her district is not immune to foreclosures and food shelf shortages.

But her votes do not support families.

Consider Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 which she consistently voted against even when a majority of Republicans voted in Favor of this legislation.
The bill devotes about two-thirds of its funds to nutrition programs such as food stamps and healthy school snacks.

Or this week, where twice she voted Against the Emergency Extended Unemployment Compensation Act of 2008. The vote indicates that a veto could be overridden thanks to the number of Republicans who recognize the impacts to American families. The funds for this program are already available, and by authorizing this expenditure, could actually stimulate the economy --- maintaining jobs and providing for families.

Politico fell for her Motherly talk without looking at her votes.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

MN-01 : Davis Press Release – Blame Walz First

Dr. Brian Davis, the Republican candidate for Minnesota’s First District, may be a political newcomer but he has already exhibiting great skill at staying on his talking points …. regardless of the subject.

Davis’ press release starts “(Winona, MN) - Despite appearing at the closed Highway 43 Bridge in Winona near the Mississippi river, Congressman Tim Walz has failed to propose any real solutions to our transportation needs, especially as it concerns finding relief for working families in southern Minnesota and the burden of high gas prices.

From the topic of the bridge closing, Davis then immediately switches to promoting his vision of energy policy and fails to address the infrastructure that is the immediate problem.

In politics, jabbing the opponent is norm, but at least stay on the subject at hand !

Addressing Minnesota infrastructure is a problem that starts at the State level which is why MNDOT closed the bridge. Congress has some responsiblity, but the State is generally the first on the scene.

Congressman Walz going to the bridge site is not an election year ploy as Dr. Davis implies. Walz has been “boots on the ground” whenever emergencies impact the District. Somehow, I suspect that all those years in the National Guard - being ready to respond to the State’s needs - has something to do with it.
Yes, Walz was there … but he also brought the Chairman of the House Transportation Committee… seeing first hand and engaging the right people are a mark of competency.

It’s odd that Davis whose mantra is for a limited government and promises in his campaign website to eliminate the practice of Congressional ‘earmarks’ would use the Hwy 43 bridge as a backdrop.

Davis confuses “earmarks” with “pork barrel” spending projects. “Earmarks” are Congressional authorization for a specific project. Congress appropriates funds and without earmarks then the Administration can spend the monies as them deem necessary. When members of Congress record an earmark, it forces those funds to be spent on that project. Are there “pork barrel" projects … absolutely ! For years, many projects were hidden from public view which is why former Congressman Duke Cunningham (R-CA) is now in jail. (Oh, and it also allowed Charlie Wilson (D-TX) to get funding for the Afghanistan rebels versus the Soviet Union.)

Earmarks can be a good investment and those that fail to utilize the system, fail our state’s infrastructure needs. For example, consider Congressman John Kline (R-MN-02) and the Hastings bridge. Listen to the words of Kline’s challenger, Steve Sarvi. "We've got a bridge in Hastings over the Mississippi that's in danger of falling down and now is when we need a Representative in Congress who will deliver the district an earmark and get this bridge rebuilt. Our infrastructure is crumbling all over the district and Kline has done nothing. This wouldn't be some kind of bridge to nowhere, it's desperately needed. Look, I'm not scared of spending money," Steve stated. "There are many things we need to spend money on like that bridge in Hastings. I'm more concerned with wasting money."

And that’s the difference between “pork barrel spending” and “earmarks”. The solution is TRANSPARENCY. For example, Congressman Walz has issued a list of 47 "earmark" requests for 2009 appropriations totaling $211,509, 561. Some are repeats from last year, such as improvements to Highway 14, the Lewis and Clark Rural Water System that would pipe Missouri River water to southwestern Minnesota, etc.and some new ones, including the four-lane expansion of 55th Street in Rochester, the dredging and restoration of Lake Zumbro, etc.
You don’t get everything you need, but the First District needs a Congressman that will keep going back to get our monies.
As Walz explained “Minnesota sends more money to Washington that it gets back, and it’s appropriate for us to advocate for the good use of tax dollars (in the district.)”

That’s the key … appropriations need to be open and above board. Walz is a co-sponsor of resolutions to address transparency in appropriations.

The awareness of transparency in appropriations is not only championed by Walz, but also Senators Barak Obama and John McCain who recently offered S. 3077 - the Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008. Senator Obama said "We should do everything we can to ensure that the American public can easily access and track how the Federal government does its business."

As a voter, that’s what I want. Republicans and Democrats working together in a transparent government serving the people’s needs … not a newbie politician spewing talking points to advance his personal ideology.

And as a postscript, Dr. Davis should be aware that the Highway 43 Bridge will re-open shortly ... and that Congressman Walz will continue fighting for funds !

Hat Tip to Evil Bobby for alerting us to the Dr. Brian Davis election strategy.

Boone Pickens has an Energy Plan that Minnesotans Need

While the switchero blame game of high gas prices has renewed the debate of expanded oil expiration, one oil man is taking action.

John Kline (R-MN-02) is at the forefront writing “Congress should consider opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to environmentally safe production, and increase offshore drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). Clearly, drilling for oil in Alaska or in the Gulf of Mexico is not a short-term solution, but if we continue down this course of inaction, will we still be discussing plans for rising energy costs when gas reaches, say, $8 per gallon?

Now, I know a good switchero when I see one. The opening for ANWR has been promoted for years, but with leading Republicans like John McCain and Norm Coleman opposing it, the legislation has died in the Senate. That leaves an opening for candidates like Dr. Brian Davis in Minnesota’s First District to evoke fear – “knowing that our economy is partly dependent on countries like Venezuela, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia is troublesome.
There are legitimate questions on appropriateness of subsidies and even why the oil companies have not utilized all the lease lands that they have access. (Read Bluestem Prairie for an excellent overview.)
Yet, this being an election year, fear and whining takes the lead over action.

So what does legendary oil man, T. Boone Pickens have to say ? "You find an oilfield, it peaks and starts declining, and you've got to find another one to replace it, " said Pickens, who once operated one of the largest independent oil and gas production companies. "It can drive you crazy. With wind, there's no decline curve. "

What’s Pickens plan ?
The Pampa Wind Project.
He isn’t just talking but spending his money. Pickens has placed an order with General Electric to purchase 667 wind turbines capable of generating 1,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 300,000 average U.S. homes. That’s just Phase I. When all four phases are complete, Pampa Wind Project will generate more than 4,000 megawatts of electricity, enough for 1.3 million homes. One study forecasts the project would generate an estimated 1,500 jobs during the construction phase, and 720 during a typical year of the operation phase.
Pickens envisions that large scale renewable energy projects like his Pampa Wind Project will permit the United States to become less dependent on foreign oil. Large scale renewable energy projects such as this are difficult to execute because they rely upon the Federal Production Tax Credit, which provides incentives for development of renewable energy. However, large scale renewable energy projects require commitments years in advance, while Congress has only extended the Production Tax Credit one or two years at a time.

While Congressman Kline wants ANWR opened, he has VOTED AGAINST legislation that would provide tax incentives for the production of renewable energy and energy conservation.

Why doesn’t Kline promote jobs for Minnesotans ? Further, The Hill reports that Kline wants to amend the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Worker Training Program to minimize union involvement in the training of workers in green “skill sets” like how to install solar panels, maintain wind turbines, or retrofit buildings with energy-efficient lighting.

Voters in Minnesota’s Second District need to consider Steve Sarvi’s objectives. Sarvi wants to make Minnesota a hub of green manufacturing and technology and thus an exporter of green hardware. We need to make jobs in rural Minnesota. Sarvi efforts are For Minnesota, while Kline’s seem to be for Alaska.

Read more about the Pinkens’ Pampa Wind Project here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

MN GOP Issues Cheney Hunting Orders

WARNING : Minnesotans watch the skies for Fundraiser II and the return of intrepid hunter Richard B. Cheney.
IF he didn’t bag his limit, he may come back !

HIS TARGET : Grumpy Republicans who threaten to throw Norm Coleman under the bus. Their looking for the prey that they can control, not RINOs !

HIS REWARD : Sending staunch Conservatives to the House of Representatives ( that being, Dr. Brian Davis and Erik Paulsen in place of Moderates Tim Walz and Jim Ramstad.)

OK, all kidding aside but I have to laugh at Ron Carey who issued a press release when Nancy Pelosi attended a fundraiser in Minnesota. Pelosi was at the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center for a meeting at the request of Congressman Tim Walz who wanted to make sure she heard first hand from Minnesota Veterans their experiences and opinions. Afterward, she did what most Party Leaders do --- she meet Party officials, supporters and raised money.
That’s Pelosi and Walz … above board … with affected members of the public participating under the full view of the media … meeting everyday citizens.

By now, you have probably heard that Vice President Cheney snuck into Wayzata for a private meeting with the objective of raising $100,000 from those that can afford to give $10,000 to advance the Conservative agenda.

Well, Ron, what do you have say about Cheney’s visit?
Tight lips must sink ships, as the MNGOP website does not have any press release.
No thank you.
No notification to the party members.

Fortunately, Polinaut has a partial list of who was there and who was not.

Yet, it is still humorous that Carey’s tired branding of every Democrat as “promoting San Francisco values” and a Pelosi Liberal, would bring in to Minnesota someone that only 22% rated as doing an Excellent or Good job[from a February 2008 Harris Poll].
No wonder there was no media advance notice !

Cheney will be out of office in January, while there is a good likelihood that Pelosi and Walz will return.
Who brought in the better person to discuss problems ?
Who cares about Minnesotans and who just wants to keep everything hush-hush?
Or, should I ask, Who cares about Minnesotans and who cares about advancing their agenda ?

Carey can blast Walz all he wants but First District voters will remember who is working for them, and who is working to advance an ideology.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

In MN-01 Davis opposes mandates but what about subsidies ?

Dr. Brian Davis, the MN-GOP endorsed candidate for Minnesota’s First District, is in stark contrast to other Republicans and even the District’s previous Republican Congressman.

During the MN-GOP State Convention, Dr. Davis was interviewed by Gary Eichten on MPR , who asked what distinguished him from other candidates, the answer was mandates … specifically, he cited Republican State Senator Dick Day belief in alternate fuel mandates.
Without citing specifics, the presumption is that Davis disagrees with Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty who signed renewable energy legislation which was passed by the Minnesota Senate 61-4 vote and Minnesota House by 123-10.
Davis’ opposition to alternate fuel mandates must be quite a shock to former First District Congressman Gil Gutknecht whose signature issue had been his “10/10 Act” – HR 4537 - that would require all gasoline sold for use in motor vehicles to contain 10 percent renewable fuel in the year 2010. When Tim Walz was elected over the incumbent Gutknecht, John Kline immediately proposed HR 349 to enact the mandate.

On January 9th, Davis outlined to First District Republicans his ideas on Energy Policy stating “The free market and the laws of supply and demand work much better than our government attempting to mandate conservation and setting quotas.”
Davis contends that “There have been numerous attempts at ‘mandating’ our way to energy independence over the past 35 years with little success.”
His goal includes “Eliminating current automobile mileage standards and government-imposed production mandates.”
The history of CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) is pretty short. The first mandate was part of the “Energy Policy Conservation Act,” enacted into law by Congress in 1975 which was passed in response to the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo. The next major change will be affected by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 after President Bush requested the first increase in CAFE standards in January. The legislation was overwhelmingly approved by Congress including including Minnesota’s Norm Coleman and 36 other Republican Senators. It will require in part that automakers boost fleetwide gas mileage to 35 mpg by the year 2020.
Davis contention that were “little success” are disputed by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences who wrote a 2002 report on the effects of the CAFE standard. The report’s conclusions include a finding that in the absence of CAFE, and with no other fuel economy regulation substituted, motor vehicle fuel consumption would have been approximately 14 percent higher than it actually was in 2002.

Opposing mandates seems to be a prime mission for Davis who said at the First Congressional District Republican endorsing convention on March 29th, “We need to focus less on mandates that pay tribute to the falsehoods of man-made global warming and emphasize more the free market, and increasing domestic energy supply.
What Davis does want, he states: “If Congress wants an energy bill it should work to remove obstacles to domestic energy production by increasing supply, such as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Outer Continental Shelf for oil exploration and recovery.”
Although drilling in ANWR is a popular idea among some Republicans, it is opposed by presumed Republican Presidential nominee John McCain and MN Senator Norm Coleman. Additionally, Florida Republican Governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist have opposed drilling in OCS.
Here’s my question for Dr. Davis, if drilling is permitted in ANWR and the OCS, who should receive the royalties and how much should be paid? For example, the Alaska Permanent Fund paid dividends in the amount of $1654 to every eligible man, woman and child in 2007. Increasing ANWR drilling will increase this “subsidy” and yet, why should Minnesotan taxpayers help to pay for a “Bridge to Nowhere” while Alaska has no state income tax and is 50th in rankings of state sales tax (yep, that’s the lowest in the nation.) Second, current leases for drilling in the Gulf Coast didn’t include price thresholds that require companies to pay royalties. With the rampant run-up in market price of a barrel of oil, why shouldn’t a royalty be paid as it is in Alaska? And, obviously, why doesn’t that royalty payment belong in the general US Treasury?

Davis states his other energy solution as “It’s clear today that nuclear energy can play a key role in expanding electric power generation and reducing our dependence on foreign oil and natural gas, a major fuel source for electricity generation.
Here’s my question for Dr. Davis, if you oppose mandates, will you oppose subsidies for the nuclear industry ? Taxpayer subsidies include over $13 billion in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. While the Omnibus Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2008 includes more than $18 billion in federal loan guarantees.

As a fiscal conservative, I have a greater tolerance for mandates that improve fuel in inefficiencies which reduce consumption, and I oppose subsidies that benefit selected groups.

Davis appears to be locking onto a energy ideology that is out of step with our needs and even out of step with prominent Republicans (Bush, McCain, Coleman, Pawlenty, etc.)

As voters consider who to support in the Republican primary, Dick Day asks "Where should our tax dollars be targeted?" while Dr. Davis appears to tell us what we want.

Friday, June 06, 2008

To beat John Kline in MN-02, DFL needs to use GOP strategy

Plato once said, “The penalty that people pay for not being interested in politics is to be governed by people worse than themselves.

The Greeks gave us the word – apatheia – or as it is known in English - APATHY.
By derivation, that would be “a” for “not” and “pathos” for suffering.
By definition: Indifference to ones interests; lacking in passion or excitement.

So, the question must be asked: Whose fault is this? It is yours and mine – the people of this state and nation. People are tired of this condition of government and like thousands of Americans in every place, they want change. Now is the time … NOW is the time. It is your job and, believe me, it will be a hard job. We have good Democrats – men and women – all over this state who will service you in the halls of government. But mere, wishing for that will not make it so. You must work at precinct levels like you have never worked before. There are door bells to be pushed and people to be talked to. The Republicans have not stayed in power through the excellence of their candidates, but through the excellence of their organization. Quit being ashamed of being a Democrat. Quit hiding behind the cloak of fear. This is your job and my job -- the victory will be yours and yours alone and with this victory will go the assurances of honor in politics and the start of a return all over this country to the American way of life. NOW IS THE TIME.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

After reading the above passage, are you inspired ?

Those words have been modified (essentially replacing Republican with Democrat) from Barry Goldwater who used this approach in November 1950 to start the Republican takeover of Arizona’s politics.

1950 or 2008, the message is the same, voters are tired of the existing situation but motivating them … turning Apathy into Engagement is the key.

By all accounts, Steve Sarvi is way behind in the always important money race. The national Democratic Party has a lot of Republican seats that they would like to challenge --- labeling some as “Red to Blue” seats. MN-02 is not one of them.

That is a shame if you believe that John Kline is not representing the District on your issues. Kline is rated in the top 20 of Conservatives and many times votes in the minority of the Republican Party.
How can anyone represent such a diverse District and yet not even vote with a majority of Republicans ... such as on HR 3221 Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008 which 95 Republicans and 227 Democrats supported;
HR 4137 Extend the Higher Education Act of 1965 which 135 Republicans and 219 Democrats supported;
HR 1429 Improving Head Start Act which 142 Republicans and 223 Democrats supported;
HR 2272 21st Century Competitiveness Act which 143 Republicans and 224 Democrats supported;
HR 802 Maritime Pollution Prevention Act which 143 Republicans and 216 Democrats supported;
and there are pleny more.

He even votes against Sense of the House Resolutions such as HR Res. 112 Supporting the Goals and Ideas of a National Child Care Worthy Wage Day which 122 Republicans and 223 Democrats supported.

Besides these votes, much has been written about his votes on SCHIP, GI Educational Funding, Energy, etc.

Plain, and simple, John Kline is an ideologist.
Ideologists do not advance legislation (or society), just their own vision – and voting against any change that does not advance their ideology even if it serves the general public.

Kline is so far out of favor that his influence rating by Congress.Org is #396 down from #253 in 2006.

The appeal of familiarity has kept the incumbent Kline in office, but now a Goodwin Simon Victoria Research poll (taken 5/19-22 of likely voters) in Minnesota's 2nd District suggests that Sarvi has a chance.
From the polling report : “It has become very clear in this election cycle that many Congressional seats formerly considered "Republican" seats are now in play; very little is safe for the GOP at present. Our recent poll results indicate that Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District has officially reached the tipping point, as the generic ballot between any "Democrat" and a "Republican" for Congress starts out as tied, 40% to 40%, for the first time in this district's history. Add to this Sarvi's compelling personal narrative and moderate inclinations, and Democrats have a real chance to take this district in November.”
According to the poll, once voters are read a single positive statement about Sarvi, they back his candidacy 49 percent to 37 percent over Kline.

Although money (click to contribute) is always important, getting the Steve Sarvi story out is essential … and that is what will convert the apathetic voter to the engaged voter.

Heck, if it worked for Goldwater in Arizona, why can’t it work in MN-02?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

How long have Republicans opposed funding PTSD ?

With the questions of Barak Obama’s patriotism and his stated support of the troops, I decided to do a little Googling. To eliminate potential pandering (or political posturing that occurs many times before an election,) I focused on 2005.
My question was: What legislation did Obama sponsor related to Veterans Issues ?

On September 17, 2005 Obama spoke in support of his amendment SA 2616 : To accelerate marriage penalty relief for the earned income tax credit, to extend the election to include combat pay in earned income, and to make modifications of effective dates of leasing provisions of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004.

The amendment, argued Obama on the Senate floor, would "... ensure that the families of our men and women in combat are not deprived of their tax benefits. In the midst of war, are we really going to tell our troops that their combat pay doesn't count as earned income for purposes of calculating tax credits? That is hard to imagine. Our troops not only earn their combat pay, but they have also earned our respect. They deserve our commitment of support."

The amendment failed.
Remember that in 2005, the Republicans were in the majority party and even though SA 2616 had the support of every Democrat, the Republicans killed it.

That got me looking at other amendments offered to the bill, and this is what really galls me.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) proposed SA 2634 : “for readjustment counseling, related mental health services, and treatment and rehabilitative services for veterans with mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, or substance use disorder.

Boxer cited that "This amendment is backed by the American Legion, AMVETS, and Disabled American Veterans." She closed her floor argument by quoting an e-mail from the wife of an Iraq War Veteran who committed suicide upon his return. "I got an e-mail from a woman who was married to Captain Michael Jon Pelkey, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for over a year. He sought help on several occasions but was discouraged by the wait time and the stigma, " said Boxer.
Boxer then read directly from the e-mail which said "Michael passed away in our home at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest on November 5, 2004. I feel that my husband is a casualty of this war and to date the Army has not done enough for post-traumatic stress. "

That funding also FAILED.
Once again, every Democrat voted for the funding but only one Republican voted for it – Gordon Smith who’s own son suicide lead to the funding of $82 million for youth suicide prevention programs at college campus mental health centers.
Yes, that means that John McCain (and Norm Coleman) voted against funding PTSD.

That was 2005.

What could that funding have accomplished ?
How many lives affected ?
IF the problem was evident in 2005, is it a bigger or smaller problem today ?

The RAND Corporation issued a report on April 16th titled Invisible Wounds of War which stated that 300,000 (or 18.5%) of the troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan may have PTSD. "These consequences can have a high economic toll," RAND said. "However, most attempts to measure the costs of these conditions focus only on medical costs to the government. Yet, direct costs of treatment are only a fraction of the total costs related to mental health and cognitive conditions. Far higher are the long-term individual and societal costs stemming from lost productivity, reduced quality of life, homelessness, domestic violence, the strain on families, and suicide. Delivering effective care and restoring veterans to full mental health have the potential to reduce these longer-term costs significantly."

In addition, the Veterans Administration reported in April that 60,000 discharged vets have been diagnosed with mental health problems.

One of the common complaints that have been directed at the Bush Administration is that they only planned for the invasion of Iraq and not for the occupation and resulting consequences (old weaponry, inadequate body armor and helmets, minimally protected vehicles, etc.)
But considering PTSD, the Senate --- led by the blocking wedge of Republicans – has failed in funding.

The Senate could still do something.
Those of us in Minnesota’s First District are well aware (and appreciate) Congressman Tim Walz’s efforts on Veterans issues. But he cannot do it alone … he needs Senate support. For example, Walz was an original co-sponsor of H.R. 2874 Veterans' Health Care Improvement Act of 2007. Although the House passed Walz’s bill last August, the Senate has failed to act on it.
That doesn’t mean that the Republicans in the Senate won’t acknowledge the problem. For example, Senators Richard Burr (NC) and Larry Craig (ID) have proposed S. 2573 Veterans Mental Health Treatment First Act. The bill does more to LIMIT veterans’ benefits and requires extensive requirements for participation. Little wonder that there are only two Senators willing to put their name on the legislation.
Besides the PTSD issue, TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) is another issue that is a major concern. Once again, Congressman Tim Walz (joined by Keith Ellison D-MN-05 and Jim Oberstar D-MN-08) co-sponsored HR 2199 : Traumatic Brain Injury Health Enhancement and Long-Term Support Act of 2007. Once again, the House passed this legislation in May 2007, but the Senate has failed to act.

Voters will decide in November whether McCain’s patriotism is more relevant that Obama’s support for Veterans issues.

While these two Senators take time to campaign, why cannot Norm Coleman get his Republican colleagues to address these issues.

Remember, VOTE 60.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Walz graduates from NBL to Statesman

Today’s Congress seems to be composed of mostly of ideologists and party loyalists with a few Natural Born Leaders (NBL) and definitely a shortage of Statesmen.
On particular issues, some members of Congress break party instructions and vote based on District or State needs, but too often, the Roll Call votes are dictated by party managers. Vision is based on the next election … not what is best for the nation’s long-term future.

Statesmen are those that think outside of party ideology. They generally don’t become Statesmen until the end of their political career or as a result of some political loss. For example, after losing to George Bush the Republican Presidential endorsement, Senator John McCain became a Statesman – enacting Campaign Finance Reform , brokering the Gang of 14 resolution to the Judicial Appointment dispute, and offering Immigration legislation – but now Candidate McCain has reverted to embrace the Bush economic ideology and other ideology favored by his Party. This week, the Senate is debating a Cap-and-Trade bill that is authored by retiring Republican John Warner and Independent Joe Lieberman. Consider them to be examples of Statesmen. In Minnesota, I would call Republican Jim Ramstad a Statesman … check out his votes and note how many times he bucks the party managers and votes in the Country’s best interest. Conversely, look at Republican John Kline’s voting record and he not only votes with the party most of the time, his Conservative ideology has him voting against the Party majority on many issues.
Jim Ramstad will be missed in the next Congress, but Minnesotans should be glad that Congressman Tim Walz is demonstrating Statesman vision.

On Monday, June 2nd, Congressman Walz arranged an economic summit consisting of five panels related to consumer issues, health care, education, workforce requirements, etc. Bluestem Prairie performed yeoman’s service by live-blogging the events of the day. It’s a great read, as you can virtually see the presentation of ideas and the exchanges from some of the audience. Walz described the conference as an idea-generator- “gathering from the people and forming that into legislation or initiatives back in D.C." with the intended results to make "a huge difference on the impact felt by the average person."

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) recently said “There’s no end to the drive of members to get good, cheap publicity,” so one might question the motives when a member of Congress schedules a public event just months before re-election. But Walz, has had numerous similar events – the first economic summit was last July in Austin. Getting citizen involvement is not unusual for Walz who has at least six summits on Veterans issues this year.

When Walz started his Congressional term, I labeled him a NBL and a few summits does not earn some Statesman status, but what he said as Keynote Speaker does.
Once again, read Bluestem Prairie’s summation.

Walz has moved beyond party politics and into public policy.
He talks of his own real world experiences and those offered by the presenters and audience.
He sees what needs to be done … not for Tim Walz, nor for Tim Walz’s re-election, but for the nation … that’s Statesmanship !

As voters consider who to cast their votes for, ask “Am I voting for a Statesman or an Ideologist ?
I will vote for a Statesman every time --- regardless of political party --- but never an Ideologist.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Poll suggests new challenge for Walz in MN-01

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee engaged the Benenson Strategy Group to poll Minnesota’s First District and the surprising results reveal a new challenge for Congressman Tim Walz.
It’s a return of an old nemesis of the DFL – Apathy !

The poll results indicate Walz getting 57% of the vote with 21 % undecided. While an incumbent getting over 50 % is expected, it is overzealous to think that a Democrat could convert that many voters in a historically strong Republican district to support him. Republican Gil Gutknecht comfortably won the district repeatedly and his staff and polling did not anticipate a change for the 2006 election. In fact, a Majority Watch poll just days before the November election, indicated that Gutknecht held 50% of the vote to 47% for Walz. The final results were Walz in a 52% to 48% victory. My analysis is that Walz won by beating Gutknecht in Olmstead County … Gutknecht’s home turf. The primary issue to Rochester voters was Gutknecht’s support for the DM&E railroad. That issue will not dominate this year’s election. To think that Walz will not have a strong challenge promotes complacency.

While Walz has done a great job engaging voters through a variety of summits (on veteran’s issues, health care, economy, etc.) and is deserving of re-election, the battle will be to continually engage potentially apathetic voters. The Republicans have historically done an outstanding job to getting their voters to the polls, but the DFL continues lose elections by giving voters enough reasons to support the Republican candidates (Pawlenty, Coleman, Kline).

Apathy occurs when voters feel the outcome is already decided or the candidates on the ballot are not exciting. The US Senate race will certainly unite the Republicans, and with image being created for Al Franken, it may turn-off some Minnesota voters as they switch from voting based on issues (SCHIP, energy policy, tax policy, foreign relations, etc.) to personal issues.

While Walz may have adequate financial resources to counter the onslaught from the Smear and Sleaze 527 groups such as Freedom's Watch, Free and Strong America PAC, Defense of Democracies Action Fund, etc., his real challenge will be to continue to speak a message that engages voters.

My suggestion is that he needs to take his message beyond the First District.

IF you believe that Wind Energy is a critical part of the energy solution,
IF you believe that our veterans should have a 21st Century GI Bill,
IF you believe that the Invisible Wounds of War (PTSD, depression, suicide) need to be addressed,
IF you believe that there is a difference between Pork-barrel spending and justified transparent Earmarks in spending bills,
IF you believe that the punitive mandates of No Child Left Behind must be eliminated,
IF you believe that our health care system needs to serve the children of low-income families,
IF these are your issues, then supporting Tim Walz is not enough.

Although these issues are ones that Minnesotans care about, Walz is stymied in getting legislation enacted.
Why ?
The Republicans play games.
For example, the Supporting the Troops Game – while Walz voted in favor, Second District Congressman John Kline voted Present thereby ensuring that the funds required would not be authorized.
Further, Kline voted Against funding to expand veteran’s education. It extends the benefit for those serving in the National Guard who presently do not receive GI Education benefits. The GI Bill gets paid for by requiring approximately 500,000 taxpayers to have a surtax of 0.5% of couples earning more than $1,000,000 or individuals earning more than $500,000. Shockingly, Kline is a co-sponsor of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 which promotes the same benefits.

Games and a disservice to our country is what the Republicans are offering !

Supporting Tim Walz means electing people who share his vision. Walz may have a Republican challenger on the ballot, but to enact the necessary improvements in our government, Walz needs help in Congress. Returning John Kline to the Second District for another term will only result in more games. Steve Sarvi needs support … as does Ashwin Madia and Elwyn Tinklenberg

Walz should take the challenge of pushing his issues and defeating the Republican game-players in other districts. No doubt, Walz campaign organizers will not accept the Benenson poll and relax .. in fact, they should take it as incentive that Walz’s message is the right message and work to help elect more Democrats.

Voter Apathy is Walz's biggest challenge.