Thursday, February 17, 2011

Senators call Scott's decision short-sighted,
tragic, and technically not allowed

From Mary Ellen Klas of The St. Petersburg Times on Feb. 16:
Legislative reaction continues to be swift to Gov. Rick Scott's decision to reject $2.4 billion in federal money, cancel bids, and kill the high speed rail project legislators voted to pursue last year.

Senate budget chairman J.D. Alexander said he was told of the governor's announcement via a text message but warned that the governor doesn't have the authority to unilaterally cancel the project.

"The Constitution doesn't allow the governor to not-spend appropriations funds" and there is $300 million appropriated in the budget to put into development of the rail line between Orlando and Tampa, Alexander said.

He said he agrees there is widespread doubt as to whether the project would have succeeded in drawing enough riders. "I think the governor is making the right choice on this rail system,'' he said. "I personally would like to have seen the bids come in to see where they really were."

Alexander said that if the Legislature puts it in the transportation budget, he expects Scott to veto it and "I don't believe there would be the support to override a veto." The question now is, "where do we go from here" and if the governor wants to cancel it, he will need the approval of the Legislative Budget Commission. "We'll certainly encourage him to pay more attention to the Constitution and budgeting rules," Alexander said.

Just as the governor may not unilaterally sell the state plane, he needs to get legislative approval to cancel the high speed rail project. "We would certainly hope that in the future he would follow the appropriate policy with regard to his expenditures," Alexander said.

Sen. Paula Dockery, the Lakeland Republican who was an early supporter of Scott and a vocal high speed rail proponent, said she also was disappointed and "it would have been more prudent" for the governor to allow private sector bids to pay for the project before rejecting it. She said seven teams from 11 countries were prepared to compete for operation of the rail line.

"Florida is a donor state for transportation dollars receiving only 62 cents on every transit dollars and 87 cents on every highway dollar we send to Washington, and this $2.4 billion in federal transportation dollars would have brought Florida in line with other states,'' Dockery said in a statement. "It appears that (US DOT) Secretary LaHood will direct these billions lost by Florida to California where true high speed rail has the next best opportunity to succeed."

Sen. Thad Altman called the governor's decision to cancel "one of the most exciting private sector projects in the history of this country" was tragic, premature, "bad for the people of Florida."

"The governor needs to at least allow the bid process to carry forward. Is he afraid of the bid?,'' Altman asked. "Let the private sector come in and show us what they could do."

All voices heard as House brainstorms for budget trims

From Philip Rucker and Felicia Sonmez of The Washington Post on Feb. 17:
As the House explores ways this week to trim federal spending beyond the $61 billion in cuts that Republicans have already proposed, Speaker John A. Boehner has said all ideas are welcome -- from obscure trims involving mustang roundups out West to major reductions such as eliminating funding for the Iraq security forces.

But such a free-for-all can have surprising results, and one of the biggest Wednesday was a victory for President Obama and a defeat for a Boehner-backed initiative.

Many tea-party-backed freshmen broke ranks with their GOP leaders and joined liberal Democrats in voting to cut funding for an alternative engine for a fighter jet. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine project has long been a frequent but elusive target, as well as one that provided jobs in Boehner's home state of Ohio.

In trying to pass a bill that would fund the federal government through September, Boehner has kept a campaign promise to give everyone a voice in the process. But the engine vote showed that no one can quite predict how it will turn out.

That didn't seem to bother some House Republicans, though. Rep. Steve King (Iowa) said the debate has been so intense because Republicans and Democrats have "years of pent-up frustrations" after floor amendments were previously not allowed for such spending bills.

"This constitutional, republican form of government is messy and debate is messy, but I think it's so important that for the first time in how many years now members can actually take their argument to the floor, have a debate, force a recorded vote on their issue," King said.

Gov. Christie slams Democrats —
and GOP — over spending

From Neil King Jr. of The Wall Street Journal on Feb. 16:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came to Washington Wednesday to slam both parties for what he described as their “irresponsible” and “dangerous” game in not addressing the country’s shaky entitlement programs.

The Republican governor accused both the White House and Republicans in Congress of irresponsibility for failing to propose fixes for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, all of which face solvency problems in coming years.

“What game is being played here is irresponsible and it’s dangerous,” he told a packed house at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “We are on the path to ruin.”

In office just over a year, Mr. Christie has gained unusual prominence within Republican ranks as a brash cost-cutter who hasn’t shied from fierce battles with the state’s teachers union and other groups.

A national unknown when he won election in 2009, the former prosecutor is now mentioned as a possible 2012 presidential contender, mainly by conservatives yearning for someone to shake up what they fear will be a lackluster field. Mr. Christie has insisted he has no intention to seek higher office next year.

“What do I have to do outside of threatening to commit suicide to convince people I’m not running?” he told the gathering. He said he was simply not ready to run for president and had plenty of work to do in New Jersey.

“And besides, my wife would kill me,” he said.

Mr. Christie drew laughter when he tossed off his own plan to fix Social Security, which he said was both obvious and shunned as the kiss of death by most politicians.

“We hare going to have to raise the retirement age,” he said. “Uh oh. I said it, and I’m still here. I am not vaporized into the carpet.”

Republicans seek to defund stimulus
on 2nd anniversary of program

From on Feb. 17:
A coalition of conservative groups and Republican lawmakers led by freshman Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy is celebrating the second anniversary of the passage of President Obama's $814 billion stimulus bill on Thursday by trying to defund what's left of it.

But with Democrats still in control of the Senate and the White House, getting federal money back after it’s been obligated may not be as easy as conservative activists wish.

Duffy, a former MTV reality star, was elected to fill the seat of longtime Democratic Rep. David Obey, the author of the stimulus bill who retired instead of facing what was expected to have been a tough re-election battle. Duffy introduced legislation last Thursday to return the $168 billion unspent portions of the stimulus back to the Treasury. Another $7 billion in uncommitted funds remains unspent.

"What's become clear to Wisconsinites and Americans is that the so-called 'stimulus' has failed," Duffy said in a written statement, noting that the unemployment rate has remained at 9 percent or above for 21 consecutive months despite the administration's sales pitch that the stimulus would prevent the rate from rising above 8 percent.

"Rescinding the remaining stimulus funds and sending it back to the Treasury for deficit reduction would send an important message to the private sector that there has been a fundamental shift in the People's House from pushing big government policies to pro-growth policies that will empower the private sector to innovate and invest," he said.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., introduced a companion bill in the Senate on Thursday.

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Deficit plan details emerge

From Jonathan Weisman of The Wall Street Journal on Feb. 17:
A bipartisan group of senators is considering legislation that would trigger new taxes and budget cuts if Congress fails to meet a set of mandatory spending targets and other fiscal goals aimed at reducing federal deficits.

The plan would break the task of deficit reduction into four pieces: a tax code overhaul; discretionary spending cuts; changes to Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements; and changes to Social Security, aides said. The Social Security system is on firmer financial footing than other major entitlement programs and raises political sensitivities that lawmakers want to deal with separately.

The proposal builds on the work of President Barack Obama's deficit commission, according to aides working on it.

"We're getting close," said Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D., Ill.), one of six senators working on the plan. "We understand that if we're going to do something that's important, it has to be timely." He said the group hopes to reach agreement "in a matter of weeks, or months."

In addition to Mr. Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, the group include Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D., N.D.), and one of the Senate's most conservative fiscal hawks, Tom Coburn (R., Okla.). Messrs. Coburn and Durbin are personally close to President Obama.

Aides working on the effort said negotiations are delicate and other options might come forward. The framework of targets and penalties is expected to be circulated to a broad group of senators by early next month.

At least he knows

More pushback to Scott: Budget chief says
state plane sale broke the law

From David Royse of the News Service of Florida on Feb. 17:
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott's sale of the state’s planes may have violated Florida law, the Republican chairman of the Senate Budget Committee said in a letter to the governor Thursday.

Ironically, the letter comes from the legislator who has probably been most vocal that the state should sell the planes, Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who has pushed for the sale of the aircraft for five years. And in his letter, Alexander applauded his fellow Republican Scott for the idea.

“I support your goal, but not the method,” Alexander wrote. “It is important that the proper procedures for accomplishing a goal we both support be followed.”

Alexander noted that Scott’s office last month directed the sale of the state’s two airplanes, using the proceeds of the sale of one of those planes to satisfy lease obligations on the second plane. That essentially means the governor spent state money without an appropriation spelled out in law, which is barred by the constitution.

The law also spells out what must be done with money that comes into the state from the sale of “disposed property,” a law that may have also been broken by the sale, Alexander said.

Another problem: the law also prohibits agencies from not spending money lawmakers have appropriated for a certain purpose. Last year’s budget contained appropriations for lease payments, operations and maintenance of the two planes. To not lease, operate and maintain them appears to violate the law, Alexander said.

“It is my position that you should have sought the approval of the Legislature before undertaking the sale of the state planes and using the proceeds of the sale of Plane One to satisfy the lease obligation of Plane Two,” Alexander wrote. “My concern, of course, is that these actions may have violated the law and as such fail to recognize the Legislature by not respecting the Legislature’s constitutional duty to appropriate funds and your duty to spend appropriated funds in accordance with the law.”

Budget cartoons

Because Obama's budget proposal is just so unfunny.

Scott not interested in any rail work-around

From Aaron DeSlatte of the Orlando Sentinel on Feb. 17:
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott expressed skepticism Thursday at idea hatched by the state’s congressional delegation to allow local governments or another public entity to take over responsibility for Florida’s $2.7 billion high-speed rail project.

In a brief media availability Thursday, Scott repeated concerns he expressed a day earlier in announcing he was scrapping the deal –- that the project would create undue risk for state taxpayers, a claim refuted by other federal and state officials.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is giving Florida one week to come up with a way to salvage the high-speed train that would link Orlando with Tampa or he will send $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money to another state that wants the money.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rick Scott's budget cuts ... and boosts

Why did Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., reduce the FY 2011 budget for nearly every state office and program except his own? Really -- can someone explain this to me? I'm thrilled with the overall budget cuts but can't understand this 116 percent funding increase for the executive office of the governor.

Click here.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Yes, we can (Reagan Remix) v2.0

From eaglephin on Feb. 12, 2008:

Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.
We are a nation that has a government, not the other way around.
If no one among us is capable of governing himself,
then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?
--President Ronald Reagan

The states can't afford Obamacare

From George Melloan of The Wall Street Journal on Feb. 4:
Behind this week's ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson overturning ObamaCare on constitutional grounds, there is a deeper economic reality. The states can't afford it. That's a primary reason why 26 states joined in the Florida lawsuit to nullify the federal law. It also would be a good reason for the Supreme Court to uphold Judge Vinson's ruling.

For decades, the federal government has presumed increasingly to make policy in health, education, welfare, business regulation, law enforcement and other areas beyond the powers enumerated in the Constitution. Up until recently, the courts have largely viewed this intrusion benignly, partly because the states have acquiesced, bargaining their sovereignty away in return for federal aid.

This once-happy marriage is on the rocks. While designing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Pelosi-Reid-Obama troika tried desperately to present a fa├žade of federal fiscal prudence where none actually existed — so they off-loaded massive costs on the states. By opening Medicaid to applicants 33% above the poverty line in 2014, ObamaCare could expand Medicaid enrollment by as much as 25%, according to the plaintiffs in the Florida suit. Medicaid, also rife with fraud in part because of its hybrid federal-state management, is already one of the biggest items in state budgets.

Thanks to the recession and their own spending excesses, nearly all states are suffering budget shortfalls, some to the point where there is no clear idea where the money will come from to meet pension and bond obligations, let alone operating expenses. The prospect of adding a further huge burden down the line, even with Washington kicking in over half the cost, is appalling.

The 26 states party to the Florida suit were saying, in essence: enough! Washington can borrow from the Chinese or call on the Federal Reserve to buy its bonds. But states' only recourse in a budgetary bind is further painful cuts in services.

Obamacare and the courts

UK's Cameron: Europe must wake up on extremism

President Barack Obama needs to take a lesson from the British prime minister.

From David Stringer of The Associated Press on Feb. 5:
MUNICH (AP) - Europe must stamp out intolerance of Western values within its own Muslim communities and far-right groups if it is to defeat the roots of terrorism, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Saturday.

Cameron told the annual Munich Security Conference that European governments have been too tolerant of some sectors of society that publicly oppose democracy or reject equal rights for all.

He said Britain had found that many convicted terrorists had initially been influenced by so-called "nonviolent extremists" -- people who aren't involved in encouraging plots, but denounce Western politics and culture -- before going on to carry out violence.

"We won't defeat terrorism simply by the actions we take outside our borders. Europe needs to wake up to what is happening in our own countries," Cameron told the conference.

Both Britain and Germany have had noisy domestic debates about the impact of immigration, and the difficulties of integrating some religious communities, or those who struggle with the language of their new home.

In an attack on Britain's previous government, Cameron said authorities there had been too hesitant to intervene when some sectors of society espoused abhorrent views.

"We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values," Cameron said. "We have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream."

Cameron said a culture of tolerance had allowed both Islamic extremists, and far-right extremists, to build support for their causes. "We've been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them," he said.

For our president, Ron Burgundy

GOP poised to win Senate

By Dick Morris of Newsmax on Feb. 4:
I know we predicted Republican Senate control in 2010. Republicans did gain seven seats and came within four of winning control. Razor-thin defeats in Colorado and Washington and unexpected thrashings in Nevada and West Virginia proved us wrong.

But this time — honest — we are going to win!

The battlegrounds in 2012 are a lot more red and less blue than in 2010. If we switch seats in North Dakota, Florida, Nebraska, Virginia, and Montana — red states all — we get control by 52-48.

And the way 2012 is shaping up, Republican control is more and more likely.

Start with retirements. Kent Conrad, the North Dakota liberal twin of retired Byron Dorgan, has announced that he won't run again. That seat is a sure GOP pickup.

Jim Webb, D-Va., has raised very little money, speaks with ambivalence about Obama's programs, and has not yet decided whether to run. George Allen's announced challenge to his re-election should cool him off even further and he'll probably drop out. Not a sure pickup but, if the Republican Party nominates Allen — and not some latter day Christine O'Donnell — we should be all right.

Herbert Kohl, the Wisconsin Democratic octogenarian, may also not run. He hasn't raised money but did lend his campaign $1 million to fill up his bank account. But loans can be repaid. Kohl may well retire.

Bowing to another king

Happy 100th birthday, President Ronald Reagan!

Former President Ronald Reagan would have been 100 years old today. Below are a few articles reflecting on Reagan.

From Devin Dwyer of ABC News on Feb. 6:
Friends and admirers of Ronald Reagan will pop the cork today for elaborate festivities around the country to commemorate what would have been the former president's 100th birthday.

Reagan, who died in 2004 at age 93, will be celebrated from Simi Valley, Calif., where hundreds are expected at a celebrity-packed tribute concert featuring the Beach Boys; to Dixon, Ill., where neighbors will gather near Reagan's boyhood home for a celebratory gala.

At the Super Bowl in Dallas on Sunday -- Reagan's actual birthday -- a two-minute film tribute will air on giant jumbotrons before tens of thousands of fans.

Earlier in the day, Nancy Reagan is expected to lay a wreath at her late husband's gravesite, as F-18s launched from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan fly overhead and the military performs a 21-gun salute.

The tributes, ranging from the formal to the quirky, have been coordinated by the Ronald Reagan Foundation and the Reagan Centennial Commission, a panel formed for the anniversary by Congress in 2009 with President Obama's approval.

From Michael Reagan, Ronald Reagan's son, on FOX News on Feb. 6:
On my father's 100th birthday, I think back to the assassination attempt on his life in March 1981. That day, the Secret Service told me that my wife Colleen and I, our two children, and my sisters Maureen and Patti would take a military transport from Los Angeles to Washington that night. My brother Ron would arrive separately.

"You'll stay in the White House tonight," the agent said, "and you'll visit your father at the hospital tomorrow."

That night, we boarded a C-130 transport and took off from a private terminal at LAX. It was a long, miserable flight, made worse by our worries about Dad. We were exhausted when we arrived at the White House.

The next morning, Colleen and I got into an aging armor-plated Cadillac limo. The agents in our Secret Service detail were on edge, worried that their might be more attacks.

As we drove, the bullet-proof window next to me slowly slid down by itself. I leaned forward and tapped the agent on the shoulder. "Excuse me," I said, "but should this window be going down?"

The agent looked — and turned white! He grabbed the window glass with both hands, swearing and struggling to pull the window up again. Apparently, the White House limo fleet was falling apart like everything else left over from the Carter administration.

From Alex Leary of The St. Petersburg Times on Feb. 6:
Ronald Reagan would have turned 100 today and Republicans have spent the past week in effusive remembrance.

Sen. Marco Rubio: "President Reagan was a man who inspired millions of Americans to serve their country and fulfill its promise as the shining city on a hill. His genial demeanor, resilience, no-nonsense approach to governing and rock solid principles attracted flocks of young Americans to the Republican Party, and I am proud to include myself in that number."

Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge: “This weekend as we gather with family and friends watch the Super Bowl, I’ll also be tuning-in to the centennial tributes to our 40th President. Indeed President Reagan’s leadership inspired so many Americans to look past current problems to see a better tomorrow, to pursue our dreams, to accomplish a goal or to start a business, and be proud to be an American.”

Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota (via Twitter): "Common sense told us that when you put a big tax on something, the people will produce less of it" - Happy Birthday President Reagan."

Rep. Allen West, R-Plantation: “At a time in our country's history when the American people needed a principled leader to inspire a nation and protect us from harm, we were blessed to have President Ronald Reagan. ... As we face today’s challenges, we need to keep in minds the words of President Ronald Reagan. Never in recent history has there been a more influential person on the United States of America, and in turn, my own personal political positions, than President Ronald Reagan."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Republican senators demand
spending cuts of 'no less' than $100 billion

From Vicki Needham and Bernie Becker of The Hill on Feb. 4:
Nearly a dozen Republican senators sent a letter on Friday urging the House to make at least $100 billion in spending cuts this year.

In a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Republican senators said the American people expect that level of spending reductions from the new GOP majority.

"Since the Democrats still control the Senate, we need the House-passed [continuing resolution] to be as bold as possible in order to strengthen the hand of Senate conservatives in increasing or maintaining the spending reductions," the letter said.

"We believe that, as part of the urgent need to cut federal spending, the total value of the fiscal year 2011 spending reductions in the upcoming continuing resolution should be no less than $100 billion," the senators said in the letter.

The senators noted in the letter that a cut of $100 billion would be only "one-15th" of this year's budget deficit.

The letter was signed by a group of reliably fiscal conservatives, including five newly sworn-in senators: Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Sens. Demint of South Carolina, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, John Ensign of Nevada, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Mike Johanns of Nebraska and David Vitter of Louisiana also attached their name to the letter.

On Thursday, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who was given unilateral authority to set spending limits, said he would cap total appropriations at $1.055 trillion. That's $74 billion less than the budget request President Obama submitted to Congress for fiscal 2011 and $32 billion less than the level at which lawmakers agreed to maintain spending.
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