Tag Archives | Congress

Deficit: ‘Gang of Six’ Revive Bi-Partisan Plan

President Obama on Tuesday renewed his push for an ambitious deficit-reduction deal, hailing a bipartisan package put forward hours earlier by a group of six senators as a sign of progress and summoning Congressional leaders for a new round of negotiations.  – New York Times

Stay tuned!

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US Cements China’s Lead on ‘Clean’ Coal

In a stunning example of how the political climate today shoots US economic growth in the foot, little beats today’s American Coal Company’s decision to shelve development of a $668,000 coal plant that captures and buries carbon dioxide using state-of-the-art  technology.   According to the New York Times, although the federal government agreed to back half the cost of the plant, “…A.E.P said it was unwilling to spend the remainder in a political climate that had changed strikingly since it began the project.”

The company itself advocates CCS (carbon capture and sequestration) technology and believes it will be needed to meet emission standards in the future.  However, because the federal government has not passed rules that would set a common standard for coal-burning plants across the country, state regulators won’t allow the companies to recover their expense.  In a jobless recovery, no politician wants to be accused of supporting ‘regulation’ that adds to the cost of doing business. Environmental regulation is stuck-in-place.

Story Doesn’t End 

If there is one thing President Obama emphasizes over and over, it’s the thread that binds the environment, innovation and economic growth together in shaping America’s future.  The American economy shot ahead of all others in the 20th century and first decade of this century because it innovated. It innovated industrial production techniques, car fabrication and steel manufacturing; its innovation in computer and software technology took over Japan’s and drove economic growth in the ’80s and ’90s.

The American economy needs to constantly renew its technological might.  Innovation is crucial.  In the 80s, other countries began to produce cheaper steel and smaller, less expensive cars, but innovations like the PC and MAC and software giants like Microsoft took over the lead and drove the economy to new heights.   The free-market has been good to the US.

However, the experience of A.E.P. shows that the total disdain for  government so prevalent in today’s politics can itself result in a drag on development of new technologies that are too expensive for one company to invest in on its own.

And that’s what’s happening here: the US is handing innovation in the clean energy technology field over to China.  China is so far ahead of the US in putting ‘clean coal’ technology to work that American scientists and corporate engineers are heading there to test out new theories.  Last year, The Atlantic featured a cover story that told why:

In the search for “progress on coal,” like other forms of energy research and development, China is now the Google, the Intel, the General Motors and Ford of their heyday—the place where the doing occurs, and thus the learning by doing as well. “They are doing so much so fast that their learning curve is at an inflection that simply could not be matched in the United States,” David Mohler of Duke Energy told me.“In America, it takes a decade to get a permit for a plant,” a U.S. government official who works in China said. “Here, they build the whole thing in 21 months. To me, it’s all about accelerating our way to the right technologies, which will be much slower without the Chinese.

They can go from concept to deployment in half the time we can, sometimes a third. We have some advanced ideas. They have the capability to deploy it very quickly. That is where the partnership works.”

From another  US scientist quoted in the article:

“You can think of China as a huge laboratory for deploying technology. The energy demand is going like this”—his hand mimicked an airplane taking off—“and they need to build new capacity all the time. They can go from concept to deployment in half the time we can, sometimes a third. We have some advanced ideas. They have the capability to deploy it very quickly. That is where the partnership works.”

China Uses Regulation to Enhance Development,  Not Retard It.

The demise of A.E.P.’s plans is a reverse example of how the government can help or hinder innovation.  The fragile interplay of regulation and private enterprise can work to America’s advantage.  But the polarized all-or-nothing political climate makes it impossible.  As long as one side promotes government as the default solution to society’s problems and the other side believes it to be the source of everything wrong in America, government and industry don’t have the support to collaborate for the long-term health of the country.





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Stimulus: Did it Work? Obey’s 1% Doctrine

A great debate about if the Stimulus Bill worked, and a fine size-up by Dave Weigel in Slate.

Did the stimulus do less than President Obama said it would? Absolutely. In the first months of 2009, when the president sold the bill, got it passed, and defended it, he tossed off predictions for job growth that got progressively higher and were never matched. At his most optimistic, he said the stimulus would be a success if it “created or saved” 4 million jobs. It fell far short of that. But ambitious, expensive bills have fallen short before, and it hasn’t discredited their reasons to exist. George W. Bush’s tax cuts were supposed to balance the budget by 2010.

Weigel  does an excellent job showing how the dynamics between media, policy and politics determine public opinion and why.  It’s a ‘last hurrah’ warning to conservatives in Congress against pulling the deficit reduction reigns too tight.

The Republican leadership is being pushed into the same mistake the Roosevelt Administration made in 1937 when it was forced by Congress to cut back on stimulus and the Depression double-dipped.  Why are we repeating history?


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The 14th Amendment

Economists and others are discussing the possibility that Obama could invoke the 14 Amendment to stave off the US defaulting on its obligations.

The original purpose of Section Four, which is reflected in its text, was to prevent political disruption and party wrangling over the public debt following the Civil War. However, the language of the Amendment went beyond this particular historical concern. It was stated in broad terms in order to prevent future majorities in Congress from repudiating the federal debt to gain political advantage, to seek political revenge, or to try to disavow previous financial obligations because of changed policy priorities.Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio was a leader of the Radical Republicans and the President pro tempore of the Senate. He agreed with Howard’s reasons for why the Confederate debt should be repudiated, but he argued that if the concern was to avoid future disruption of American politics, the current proposal did not go far enough. It was also necessary to guarantee the Union debt, because former rebels or rebel sympathizers who returned to Congress after the war might, out of selfish or malicious motives, seek to prevent Union soliders and their widows from being compensated. Moreover, there was no guarantee of what a later Congress, motivated by different priorities, might do. Shifting majorities in a future Congress might be willing to sacrifice the public debt or the interests of pensioners in the name of political expediency. Thus, it was as important to guarantee the Union debt as it was to repudiate the Confederate debt.   Jack Balkin

Balkin and others make the argument that Section 4 of the 14th amendment is to ‘protect’ the federal debt (honoring it) against political expediency.  This theory says that the President, not Congress, has the obligation to prevent default on ‘obligations.’  One way of doing this is for the treasury to just keep on issuing checks past the default deadline.

Obviously, this action would quickly be considered by the Supreme Court.  Would the Court conservatives ever side with Congress over the President and risk another international economic crisis?  Or will Congress compromise at the last minute?


The Economist

The New Republic

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Democrats Finally Laugh at Republicans


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Congress Should Censure Kyl

Comedians had a field day with Senator John Kyl’s ill-informed, flippant declaration that 90% of Planned Parenthood’s work is performing abortions when the real figure is 3%. It’s always amusing when a politician gets caught in a lie, especially when that politician steps into his own mess again with a press release claiming his original statement was ‘not intended to be a factual statement.’

I don’t want to be a kill-joy, but I think Kyl’s words are emblematic of the cavalier disdain politicians have for the electorate.  It’s one thing to exaggerate the impact of a  policy such as whether cutting taxes leads to X% of economic growth. But there is no excuse for a US Senator to spread false information on a divisive subject.  Whether a bold-faced lie, ignorance or a callous statement of unresearched facts,  such behavior should be unacceptable to voters in both parties. Mendacity is one area bi-partisanship reigns.

It’s time that Congress get serious about a problem that breed deep cynicism among voters.  Congress should censure members who make false statements and spread lies that can be objectively verified or debunked.

It stretches credibility to think that Kyl, who has been fighting Planned Parenthood for years, is ignorant of the most basic facts about the  services Planned Parenthood offers.   If he is clueless, then Kyl shouldn’t be talking on the subject and entering statistics about it into the Senate record.

His years as a legislator would have informed Kyl that Planned Parenthood is forbidden by law from using  federal money to fund abortion services.  Because it is one of the most heavily scrutinized organizations in the country, even a simple clerical error in its financial filings could bring its many services, such as prenatal care, general gynecological care (including contraception), STD diagnosis and treatment for men and women, cancer screening and other wellness programs, to a screeching halt.   Senators may scoff  at the idea that anyone would seek out Planned Parenthood to have her blood pressure taken.  The reality is that for many women, especially the uninsured and poor, the health care they receive at Planned Parenthood is the only care they receive all year.

Some critics argue that lying and corruption are as old as the Republic and point to the ferocious ‘yellow journalism’ of the 1920s and 1930s.  Right.  But this is not mid-20th century America.  We live in an era of complexity when elected officials are called upon to critically judge policy initiatives backed by physical sciences they will never fully understand, warfare is largely defined by its ‘unintended consequences’ and only a few specialized math academics understand how our financial markets work.  We as a society need and deserve objective factual information, well-researched positions and deliberate political discourse.  Congress needs to elevate its standards.

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