Tag Archives: congress

Why Every Kid Wishes School Schedules Ran Like Congress

As many holidays, teacher work days, snow days, spring breaks and summer breaks as school kids get I think they'd still be thrilled to switch schedules with Congress.  Especially on days like yesterday (Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011) when Congress said the Pledge of Allegiance and promptly adjourned for three hours. Apparently the Republican leadership didn't want to hear what the Democrats had to say. (Even more interesting, they shut off C-SPAN!):

The incident occurred mere moments after the House went into session. Hoyer made a motion for a vote on the Senate’s payroll tax cut extension, which would extend the lower rates for another two months, but the Republican presiding over the House did not acknowledge the motion. He instead adjourned the House, then got up and walked out.

“As you walk off the floor, Mr. Speaker, you’re walking away, just as so many Republicans have walked away from taxpayers, the unemployed, and very frankly, as well, from those who will be seeking medical assistance from their doctors, 48 million senior citizens,” Hoyer can be heard saying.

“We regret, Mr. Speaker, that you have walked off the platform without addressing the issue of critical importance to this country, and that is the continuation of the middle class tax cut, the continuation of unemployment benefits for those at risk of losing them, and a continuation of the access to doctors for all those 48 million seniors who rely on them daily for help.”

And that’s when the audio cut out. Seconds later, footage faded to a shot of the capitol from outside.

Here's the video:


Inside Moves

Did you see the 60 Minutes story on our duly-elected Congresscritters potentially profiting by using information they gleaned from their work on the Hill to inform their investment decisions?  Well, according to this Wall Street Journal story many big-time investors are profiting from information they glean directly from members of Congress and Congressional staffers.

"Hedge funds and other investors have found that Washington can be a gold mine of market-moving information, easily gathered by those who are politically connected," according to Sanford Bragg, CEO and president of Integrity Research Associates, an independent group that analyzes research providers…

Wall Street firms have for years hired lobbyists to scour Congress and the White House for news that could affect stock prices. Now, investors want to hear from decision makers firsthand.

Many turn to William Williams, president of JNK Securities, a firm that brings lawmakers and investors together "to bridge the information gap between Washington and Wall Street," according to a recent news release.

Mr. Williams used to charge clients as much as $10,000 for meetings with lawmakers. That changed last year after a reporter from the publication Inside Higher Ed asked the office of Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) about an email from JNK showing it was charging to attend a possible meeting with the senator. Mr. Harkin refused to attend.

Now, hedge funds don't pay fees to JNK Securities. If they use information gleaned at these face-to-face meetings they are expected to execute their trades through the brokerage firm, which collects commissions.

There's more, but you get the picture.  I seriously doubt this kind of inside information is restricted to the federal level – I'm willing to bet it goes on at the state and local level as well – and as the reporters point out it's not illegal activity, but I think this is exactly the kind of thing that has escalated the level of mistrust of our public and business institutions to astronomical levels.

If you were to talk to the folks involved in these meetings, both on the government side and industry side, you'd probably get an earful about this dialogue being necessary to make sure the government fully understands the issues so they don't unnecessarily burden industry with misaligned regulation or some such thing.  Sure, it makes perfect sense for government representatives to fully understand the industries they are proposing to regulate, but I'll be darned if I can understand why those discussions can't be publicly broadcast so that everyone is on the same playing field. (Truth be told I can't think of a reason why investors would need to be included in the discussion at all, but for now let's just assume they have a place at the table). Let's put it this way – why shouldn't I, as an individual investor, have access to this information at the same time as a hedge fund investor?  If Congress was a public company and members of Congress were board members of the company then this behavior would be considered insider trading.  It's ironic that because they are essentially board members of USA Inc. their behavior is perfectly legal.

The article goes on to mention some proposed legislation that would prevent this type of inside information trading, but I'm not sure how effective any legislation can be until the entire culture in the halls of power changes. If the people in power can't perceive that it's wrong to play favorites in the public sector, to create a favored class, then there's not a piece of legislation that can be passed that will fix the problem because they'll simply find a way around it to help their friends. 

Long ago some wise people realized that our entire society is constructed on a foundation made up of one element – trust.  Without trust financial markets collapse, bank runs happen (why do you think we even have an FDIC?), government collapses (usually after a bout of totalitarianism) and civil society disappears.  If our leaders don't begin to reestablish trust with the people I fear what my children will inherit.  This probably seems like an over reaction to a relatively minor financial story, but I think this story perfectly highlights what's wrong with our country right now and I very much want to see this fixed before it's too late.

13% Ain’t So Bad

So Gallup says that Congress' approval rating is at 13%, tied for an all-time low.  You might be tempted to think that this bodes ill for the current members of Congress, but I'd like to point out a few things that may help explain why low approval ratings probably won't translate into a lot of carnage for Congressional incumbents on Election Day 2012:

  • I bet if you did a separate poll for each member of Congress that asked his or her constituents how they were doing you'd get numbers showing a much higher approval rating.
  • I bet most of us think we do a fine job selecting our own Congresscritters, but the idiots in other parts of the country are TERRIBLE at selecting theirs.
  • The vast majority of incumbents will be facing off against people who are no great shakes themselves, and who are likely to be running poorly funded campaigns.  We tend to vote for the folks who spend the most to buy our love, so this doesn't bode well for challengers.

Sadly I don't have much hope for getting an improved Congress because I don't have a lot of confidence in the rest of us demanding one.



Strict Constitutionalists?

One of the things I'm more than a little tired of is the taint of hypocrisy that permeates our public discourse.  The most recent example involved the reading of the Constitution in the House to kick off the first session of the 112th Congress.  I guess the Republicans wanted to make a statement in their return to the majority by reading the Constitution and implying that the Democrats, okay capital "L" liberals, had veered away from a strict adherence to the Constitution and were taking our country to hell in a hand basket by taking an interpretive approach to the document that is the bedrock of our government.

Here comes the hypocrisy: the Republicans decided to read a version of the Constitution that doesn't include some of the original language that was later amended. Check this out:

Even before the reading could begin, Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., was on his feet trying to determine why the reading would not include the original language of the document. After a moment of parliamentary debate, Inslee asked Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.—who was overseeing the reading—to clarify why language was being "deleted" from the reading. Goodlatte replied that he'd consulted with the Congressional Research Service and the Library of Congress which "actually maintains a copy of the Constitution which includes those sections that have been superseded by amendment, and so we are not reading those sections that have been superseded by amendment."

Hmmm…here's the problem with that explanation:

There is only one official, canonical version of the Constitution—and most of the folks who read today, Republicans and Democrats alike, have a copy in their offices, if not their breast pockets. The suggestion that there is some other, agreed-upon, document, whose "portions [were] superseded by amendment" is simply untrue. As CBS News Capitol Hill Correspondent Bob Fuss pointed out, the "redacted" version as read this morning had no coherent logic. They skipped over the three-fifths compromise but included the constitutional clause referring to the preservation of voting rights only for males over the age of 21—a provision superseded by the 26th Amendment. They skipped the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) then read the 21st(repealing Prohibition). Andrea Stone at AOL News picked up on the fact that they "read 14 words from Article I, Section 9 about taxation. Under a strict reading of the ground rules, though, it likely should have been excised because of the later passage of the 16thAmendment that legalized the federal income tax."

Believe me, I know that this type of crap isn't unique to the Republicans, but it's an inauspicious start for leaders who want us to believe that they're going to adhere to some strict adherence to the Constitution as our Founding Fathers meant them to.  Actually that's another pet peeve: people who argue for strict adherence to the Constitution and belittle those who disagree with them as taking an "interpretative" approach as if they themselves aren't interpreting the Constitution. By definition you have to interpret the Constitution, or any other document, if you are to understand it and take action based on it, and reasonable people can always interpret something differently. This stunt by the Republican leaders of the House makes that abundantly clear.

Not Remotely Funny or Cool

Someone sent an envelope containing baby powder to Rep. Foxx's office in Clemmons and caused quite a scare for one of her staffers.  As someone who lived through the whole anthrax thing in DC (my company was served by the postal facility that had to be decontaminated about 8 years ago, which meant we got some crispy mail for a while and any time we had a "clumpy" envelope everyone got a little nervous) I can tell you that if this was intended as some kind of joke then it's not remotely funny.  For that matter, I don't care how much you dislike a Congress-critter, this is a reprehensible way to try and make your point. 

The Obama Head Fake?

So maybe health care reform is just a decoy:

But other issues that once consumed Congress are now sailing into law, often without much public notice. Senior White House political adviser David Axelrod said his opponents in Congress are absorbed with defeating Mr. Obama's health-care overhaul, what he calls "the shiny object that they've chased." As a result, he contends, other measures have been left to pass into law.

Earlier in the article:

Last week, Mr. Obama signed defense-policy legislation that included an unrelated measure widening federal hate-crimes laws to cover sexual orientation and gender identification — 12 years after it was first introduced. The same legislation also tightened the rules of admissible evidence for military commissions, an issue that consumed Congress in debate in 2007 but received almost no attention this go-round.

Other new measures signed into law since the administration took office, all of which kicked up controversy in past congresses, make it easier for women to sue for equal pay, set aside land in the West from development, give the government the power to regulate tobacco and raise tobacco taxes to expand health insurance for children. Congress and the White House, in the new defense-policy bill, also killed weapons programs that have survived earlier attempts at termination, among them, the F-22 fighter jet, the VH-71 presidential helicopter and the Army's Future Combat System.