Monday, June 21, 2010

MN-02 : Kline Puts Out Help Wanted Sign

Don’t want to wait for the full effects of the healthcare reform and get a job in an industry that’s growing ...

In fact, remember when Senator Chuck Grassley was asked by a constituent how he can get the same kind of health care options members of Congress have, Mr. Grassley said “You can. Just go work for the federal government.

Good News ! John Kline’s hiring !

Scheduler/Executive Assistant - The office of Rep. John Kline (R-MN) is seeking a D.C. Scheduler/Executive Assistant. This position is responsible for managing the Member’s DC schedule, making travel arrangements, coordinating the DC intern program, and supervising front office operations and staff. Candidates must possess meticulous attention to detail; excellent communications skills; and the ability to multitask, organize, and balance competing priorities in a fast-paced environment. Candidates must have Hill experience. Minnesota ties preferred. Salary commensurate with experience. Please send resume, and cover letter to:

Ah, how interesting that we keep hearing that if only government would run like a profit-making business. In today’s economy, most companies are taking every opportunity to reduce staff … attrition means reduction in staff … re-assignment of duties … carry a little extra load.

In essence, the message is : “The American people are tightening their belts and making tough decisions, and they expect the same of their elected leaders. It is time for Washington to get its priorities straight, put our fiscal house in order, and give job creators the freedom they need to put Americans back to work.” … or so said John Kline (R-MN-02) on June 4, 2010.

This really brings us to a discussion of how the Congressional staff is funded.
Of course, the answer is : You and me, the taxpayer.
But who decides how those funds are spent : The Representative.

Each member of the House of Representatives has a Member’s Reimbursement Allowance … which is basically the same amount for everyone with those with Committee leadership given additional monies. The first thing to remember is that the MRA does not have to be spent in total … in fact, Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN-01) has routinely returned monies every year … and Congressman Walz has never accepted a pay increase.
The member can essentially allocate their MRA however they want with some maximum headcount considerations.
In essence, if the Congressman wants to give out year end bonuses … that’s fine
… if the Congressman wants to pay an “executive assistant” more than his Chief of Staff … that’s fine
… if the Congressman wants to spend it on furniture or salary, it doesn’t matter as long as it doesn’t exceed the MRA maximum.
(Oh, and don’t forget the Franked Mail privilege that members of Congress have.)

So, let’s look at Mr. Kline’s staff.
For perspective, in 2007, his total staff salary was $ 813,195; in 2008, it was $880,628; and in 2009 it was $ 943,552.
What was that about “It is time for Washington to get its priorities straight, put our fiscal house in order … ” ?

The guy you want to be is Paul Teller … who Mr. Kline paid $10,000 to be his Executive Director for one month in April of 2009. Mr. Teller was previously employed by Mr. Kline in August 2008 for $8,000 … WOW … that’s fiscal management !

The most high profile position that many Minnesotans may actually deal with is Mr. Kline’s District Director. In 2007, he was paid $105,575.04. Fast forward to 2009, $116,151.55 … that’s over $10,000 and 10% salary increase.

In fact, reviewing the payroll data, it appears that it is not uncommon for Mr. Kline’s staff to receive “year end pay adjustments” to the tune of $2,000 to $3,000 each year … some as much as 30%.

Why Mr. Kline is accepting applications for this Scheduler/Executive Assistant is not stated in his advertisement. One would hope that this would not be a new creation … or a temporary replacement while a member of his current staff has been moved to his campaign re-election committee.
For example, using Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN-06) as an example … her Chief of Staff Julie Quist temporarily left her Congressional assignment to work on Ms. Bachmann’s re-election campaign late in 2008 … but returned afterward … during the time that she was not on the Congressional Staff, Ms. Quist was paid as a campaign consultant by the Bachmann campaign committee. However when she returned to the Congressional staff, Ms. Quist received a one-time payroll adjustment of $6,250 … in essence, it would appear that the taxpayers paid for her lost wages. Under the MRA rules, Ms. Bachmann controls how and who she pays.

It’s funny that the winner in the second week of the Republican YouCut program was to eliminate federal pay raises. Just makes you wonder what good it would do to eliminate pay raises, when members of Congress seem to spend our monies with so much freedom.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

MN-02 : Does Harvard Study Prove Kline Right About Earmarks ?

A case study in logic, goes something like this :

John Kline is a human being.
Women are human beings.
Therefore, John Kline is a woman.

If you accept that logic, then consider this ...

John Kline opposes earmarks since they “are based on a member's seniority, committee assignment or party affiliation.”
A Harvard study states that obtaining a chairmanship on a “powerful congressional committee” actually damages corporations within the states that receive these federal dollars.
Therefore, John Kline’s opposition to earmarks benefits Minnesota.

In both examples, the logic is faulty.

Yet, that is the assessment suggested in a recent Letter to the Editor proclaiming that “A new Harvard Business School study shows how John Kline’s “no earmark” policy benefits Minnesota.”

I am not sure if the writer read the Do Powerful Politicians Cause Corporate Downsizing?
report, but its basic question was “Does public sector spending complement or crowd out private sector economic activity?
John Kline is not mentioned ... nor is his "no earmark" policy ... in fact Minnesota is barely a sidenote.

The report analyzed over 42 years of earmarks and various changes of committee chairman and determined that corporations in those states invested less in their business than they may have otherwise.
But what does that mean ?
Well, the report states … “a key feature of our data is that firm-level figures reflect capex, R&D, payout, employment, and sales growth aggregated across all operations of the firm, including divisions located in other states. … To the extent that portfolio capital has greater mobility across states than across countries, the impact of fiscal stimulus may be weaker at the state level than the national level.”
Further, the report states : “This suggests the crowding out of private investment is particularly pronounced in industries operating at a high level of capacity where competition for additional factors of production including facilities and specialized capital is expected to be strong.
My interpretation : if labor and resources are constrained in one state, a company may increase in another state … thus the corporation may grow in total, but not necessarily in the state that received federal funds. Hence one of the reasons why the military industrial complex has operations in virtually every state … when “labor gets tight”, they can re-align.

The report concludes : “Our results demonstrate that the average firm retrenches in the face of government spending shocks, but it is certainly possible (and perhaps likely) that some individual firms do in fact benefit from these spending shocks.

The report uses as an example that Alabama had not had a chairman of a powerful committee until Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) came into power. For example, Shelby’s $15 million earmarks went specifically to the construction of housing and facilities for lower income families … the result was that another Alabama company that produced prefabricated homes saw a decline in activity.
Now, is that bad ?
Do you want mobile homes in your community or brick and mortar homes … plus the mobile home business has had significant changes in profitability and demand caused by a number of other factors (most notably interest rates), so it is difficult to know what the demand in Alabama would have been without Shelby’s earmark.

What the report really confirmed is something that has been widely reported – the largest of recipients of earmarks are Hawaii, Alaska, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Alabama: All states which had powerful congressional chairmen over the sample period.

Thus the problem is not earmarks, but that certain individuals look first and foremost to their state and not to the overall country.

It’s the people that are the problem … not necessarily the earmark process. Yes, so Richard Shelby (R-AL) is a problem … there are many examples that taxpayers should be concerned. Senate appropriator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii). then-Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), and Robert Byrd (D-WV) have created imbalances.
But if I think of long-serving Senators that could impact this situation, I think of Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, Democrats representing Massachusetts and John McCain and John Kyl, Republicans representing Arizona. In terms of earmark dollars, Massachusetts comes in at 27 yet based on population it should be 13 ( in effect a negative 14) while Arizona is #25 in terms of earmark dollars and #21 in population (a negative 4) … so there are examples of Senators that are not abusing the system. FYI : Minnesota is #37 in earmark dollars while #20 in terms of population ( and coming in second to Indiana as having the worst relationship.)

Returning back to the LTE writer’s assessment, NO, Mr. Kline’s “no earmark” policy DOES NOT benefit Minnesota … if Alabama is not building mobile homes, that does not mean that Minnesota is.
What it does mean is that certain states are getting more federal investment than we are.

The real question is : Is there a better way to ensure that the dollars are invested for the greatest need and purpose ?

John Kline’s “no earmark” policy does not address that … in some ways, the analogy would be that Honor Students are punished when other students abuse the system … the report clearly shows that Minnesota is not abusing the system, yet our dollars are helping other states.

There are some better approaches.
When will the Republicans put some serious fiscal conservatives like Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on the Appropriations Committee ? He has been repeatedly rejected by GOP leadership yet that would be the first step in stopping wasteful government spending.
How about rotating committee assignments, so that no one holds a committee chairmanship for longer than two years ?
How about a maximum amount that any Senator or Representative can request ?
How about getting Senate Republicans to reach agreement with House Republicans on what their earmark policy will be ? Who will control Senators Shelby, Cochran, et al ?
How about Enhanced Rescission Authority legislation ?

Or, something that Mr. Kline could do without the Republican Party approval … following the Tim Walz Transparency process … request input from constituents … give a hard review … and then report back what you will recommend.

But doing nothing, is just that … Mr. Kline your “no earmark” policy does nothing.

All that said, Mr. Kline has opposed earmarks that benefit Minnesota, yet he has been a strong supporter of earmarks that the Pentagon does not want … C-17 cargo plane, F-22 fighter, F-18 fighter, or even alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter.

In the end, let’s ask Mr. Kline : How will your crusade change the process ?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

MN-02 : Kline Fighting Yesterday’s War with Borrowed Dollars

One of the most challenging questions for Congressional candidates to answer is :
With the U.S. facing a staggering national debt while still feeling the effects of a slow global economic recovery and an aging population that is dependent upon entitlement programs, how should the military budget be spent ? Or, a better question, what’s the best investment to protect the country from a stateless enemy ?

To put that question in proper perspective, the answer should be based on what’s working today and what will work in the future … not what has been our past experience.

Yesterday’s headline was that Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, who has been described as Al-Qaeda’s #3 and believed to be the head of al-Qaida in Afghanistan, has been killed in a drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal area. A website linked to al-Qaida also acknowledged his death.

Predator drones have been used extensively by the CIA to assassinate alleged al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. The CIA does not comment on its top-secret program, though the New York Times reported this month that the intelligence agency believes it has killed more than 500 militants in the past two years. Last year the CIA’s director, Leon Panetta, called the Predator drone program “the only game in town”.
Each army Predator costs $6 million “without payload”. Col Gregory Gonzalez, project manager for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, says drones are equivalent to the use of radar in the second World War, or helicopters in Korea and Vietnam : “They’ve been funding us really well, because they know there’s a bang for the buck.” Col Gonzalez says.
The technology is becoming more accessible. Forty-three nations are building military robots, as are some non-state actors, such as the Lebanese Hizbullah.

Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley reports the transfer of personnel, weapons acquisition dollars, training assets and other resources from conventional to unmanned aircraft is “being institutionalized and will stay with us for years to come.”
Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli said that unmanned aircraft are not just a fad, “They have forever changed the way the Army operates.” The “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap” outlines the Army’s plan to develop its own fleet of UAVs over the next 25 years, when all aviation missions are slated to transition to predominantly unmanned. Some missions, such as cargo resupply, will be performed mostly autonomously, while others, like attack, will be performed mostly by remote operators.

So, to the military, drones are the future … so why are House Republicans still fighting for yesterday's weapons … building up the military for the last war ?

Case in point : the Air Force's most advanced and most expensive fighter, the F-22 has never been flown in combat. Yet, John Kline (R-MN-02) supported an “earmark” offered by Rob Bishop (R-UT) for eight additional F-22 … the cost to produce these would be $2.8 Billion . Secretary of Defense Robert Gates put a 187-plane cap on the program and does not think we need anymore. Mr. Kline defended his support as this was a “good jobs bill” (at least for Lockheed Martin).

Another example is Boeing’s C-17 … Gates said the 205 C-17s that are already in the fleet or under construction are enough, and he included no money in the 2010 defense budget for additional C-17s. But the House and Senate added $2.7 billion to a war-funding bill to buy eight C-17s and seven smaller C-130J cargo planes.

Or the FY2011 Navy budget that was altered by Todd Akin (R-MO), whose district is near Boeing’s defense headquarters in St. Louis, to approve 30 F/A-18 E and F Super Hornet strike fighters which is eight more than requested.

Or, the change to Defense Budget for an alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter which both Presidents Bush and Obama Administrations do not want.

Mr. Kline is clear … spending on military programs gets a blank check … even if it spent to fight the last war. Mr. Kline is planning a war against the past adversaries; today’s enemies are not nation states but stateless terrorists. When Boeing, General Electric and Lockheed Martin win, the taxpayers’ do not … even if it means monies for Mr. Kline’s re-election (i.e. Boeing gave $7,500 for his campaign and $5000 to his Security and Freedom PAC.)

Conversely, DFL-endorsed candidate Dan Powers offers a more reasoned approach, “we can’t afford to do that. If we can retool the way we use our military, we can put a lot of money towards infrastructure needs, towards becoming energy independent. There are so many other things we can do to invest in our own country".

Mr. Kline borrowing will grow the national debt needlessly and not help us defend against the enemy that is waging war against us.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

MN-02 : John Kline’s (and Minnesota’s) Missed Opportunity

The explosion that killed eleven workers at the British Petroleum-leased Transocean Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana has opened our eyes … to missed opportunities.

“Drill here, Drill now” may be part of the solution to America’s energy needs, but risks are now more clearly seen. That said, it is estimated that by the time that the well is capped, America will have lost the equivalent of what it consumes in 3 hours.

Our future is still the same as it was in 2005, when John Kline (R-MN-02) so proudly suggested that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was the solution … as it will take “unprecedented steps to promote greater energy conservation and efficiency and help lower energy prices for consumers.” Specifically, he mentioned it will “Provide incentives for clean coal technology and renewable energies such as biomass, wind, solar, and hydroelectricity.

Those were the days, when Mr. Kline actually worked to address the needs of the Second District … as illustrated by his other press releases in the 30-day time period highlighted by :
Kline Announces $1,782,330 for Dakota County Hydroelectric Facility,
Kline Announces $45,600 for New Prague water system predevelopment activities.,
Kline announced a federal grant of $70,821 for the Dakota County Drug Task Force,
Kline Announces a federal grant of $222,941 for the Lakeville Fire Department,
and Kline Announces a federal grant of $11,160 for the Cottage Grove Fire Department.
Of course, today, Mr. Kline speaks of the evil of “earmarks” as they were only available based on a member's seniority, committee assignment or party affiliation yet, somehow a newcomer like Mr. Kline was able to get a return on some of the Second District taxpayer’s monies.

Mr. Kline was right in 2005 when he acknowledged the need for greater energy conservation and efficiency and help lower energy prices for consumers but like his walking away from “earmarks”, Mr. Kline seems to have walked away from helping Minnesota developing jobs in “green industries.”

The Bush Administration set goals based on the 2005 legislation, including investing to
make solar power cost-competitive with conventional sources of electricity by 2015

And to make that happen, the Bush Administration awarded $168 Million in grants through the Solar America Initiative Funding … but Minnesota-based companies are lacking from the list.

Since then, Mr. Kline seems to have rejected solar and wind as he voted against various bills that would have helped Minnesota and the nation create jobs.

But that doesn’t mean that some of those Bush investments won’t start coming to the market. This year, solar shingles should available for new home construction. These are shingles – not the big solar panels of yesterday – and 250 shingles covering a 1,000 square feet of roof will generate 3.5 kilowatts of energy. That's renewable energy ... that's efficiency ... that's lower cost ... that's a step toward energy independence.

The concern is that even as these new products come on line, Minnesota will be left out in the cold with Mr. Kline standing in Washington.

The Second District needs someone with passion for the potential of renewable energy. Mr. Kline gave it lip service and has walked away.

Conversely, DFL-endorsed candidate, Dan Powers speaks of energy independence as “a goal that everyone can see. They can grab hold of it and work on it. ” Powers is an advocate for energy independence for both environmental and economic reasons. Part of the reason Powers says "we can't wait" to implement technologies which will lead towards energy independence, is that "we have so little control over our own economy... [and] our economy cannot increase without reliable and cheap energy. "

Being a contractor, Dan Powers understands that “solar shingles” maybe part of our homes futures, but that for older homes energy efficiencies can be obtained with more insulation and better windows … these types of programs were key components of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (aka the Obama stimulus) … which Mr. Kline opposed.
The cost for solar shingles may be an increase of $5,000 on a typical home … and some tax incentives may be necessary … but will Mr. Kline once again oppose it just as he did with the Obama stimulus ?

Mr. Kline has had too many missed opportunities … it’s time to give Dan Powers an opportunity.