Freedom Works’ Crib Notes

While the national media foolishly and sadly follow Sarah Palin around the country, serious Tea Party people—Palin is not seriously thinking about running for president—are focusing on the battle ahead.

Dick Armey, former House Majority Leader and now Pooh-Bah of Freedom Works, has graciously supplied freshman House Republicans with a few simple points to make about the party’s plan to hold the debt ceiling hostage in exchange for some ideological candy and about the party’s plot to murder Medicare in its sleep.

Debt Ceiling:Key point: the world does not end if the debt ceiling is not raised. Treasury Secretary Geitner [sic] is not likely to default on our loans. Spending cuts will become a priority before default.”

Translation: We don’t have to worry about any fallout from our irresponsible behavior.  Geithner will either have to do our bidding or we will blame him for any trouble!  It’s that simple fellow Republicans!

Medicare Caper:Get out there and talk to people. Hold town halls at senior centers and other areas where the population is especially concerned about their benefits being cut. Take the lessons of ’94 and ’95 and get out there and explain to people that their immediate benefits will not be affected.”

Translation: Go tell the old folks who love their Medicare, and who vote in droves, that they have nothing to fear.  We’re not going to murder their Medicare, only their children’s and grandchildren’s Medicare. What old-timer wouldn’t buy into that plan?  No harm, no foul. The geezers get to keep (most) of their current bennies, while the younger folks will both pay for those bennies and cough up more scrilla for cost increases in their own health care coverage resulting from our stingy “new” plan.  Let’s hope the voters don’t figure out the unfairness of that part of our electoral scheme.

The Myth Of Doing Nothing: “We need to dispel the myth that if we leave Medicare alone it will stay the same. It won’t…Democrats do not have a plan of their own. Hold up a blank piece of paper as a powerful image of their do-nothing approach. Stick to your message.”

Translation: As long as Democrats are just trying to keep us from killing Medicare, we can win the message battle by simply saying our plan to kill it is the only one out there.

A Tribute To People, A Tribute To Government

Mike Pound, a popular and entertaining local columnist for the Joplin Globe, doesn’t write much, if anything, about politics.  But his column in Monday’s paper, written in his inimitable style, expresses what many of us believe about government—about our government—particularly at times like these in Joplin.

And it may cause him some pain to know that I am featuring his column today, I don’t know.  I’ve never met him.  But I encourage everyone to read what he wrote, including the following, related to the memorial service at Missouri Southern on Sunday:

…they packed into the building to pay tribute to a remarkable community that was knocked down by a sharp shot to the jaw and managed to jump up off the canvas before the 10-count even began.

There were a lot of government types in the building Sunday. There were city government folks, there were state government folks and there were federal government folks. I think that makes sense. If there ever was a time that the government deserved a some pats on the back, it’s now.

Let’s face it. In the aftermath of one of the deadliest tornadoes in recent memory, the government worked. City police, fire and ambulance personal responded seconds after the tornado touched down. They were joined by the county sheriff people and the Missouri Highway Patrol. They were joined by emergency personnel from other cities, counties and states. They were later joined by federal emergency and rescue people and later still by folks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration. In fact, there have been so many government people, of all levels, working tirelessly in Joplin this past week, it’s impossible to list them all.

For some folks, the government has always been an easy target. For some folks, the government is a big, bloated monster so incompetent that it shouldn’t be allowed to run an elevator.

And, to be honest, sometimes the government acts that way. But, when it matters, when folks really need the government, it comes through for them. It does what it is supposed to do. It works.

That really shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Because the “government” is not a thing. The government is people. The government is Missouri Highway Patrol Sgt. Mike Watson, who lives two blocks from me and whose daughter has grown up with my daughter. The government is the firefighter who plays on your softball team. The government is your co-worker on the National Guard. The government is the nice guy who delivers your mail.

Speaking of that, can we give a hand to the folks at the Joplin Post Office? Faced with the impossible task of handling mail addressed to addresses that no longer existed, the post office went to work and pulled off that impossible task and is still doing so.

I once got into a brief debate during a Globe editorial meeting with an area politician and, in the debate, he made sort of a derisive comment about the postal service.. After that meeting, one of the other Globe employees said he wondered what his grandfather, a long-time postal worker, would have made of that politician’s post office jab. It was a good question.

Look, our government is not perfect. But neither are people. But when push comes to shove, when it really matters we, as a town, a state and a nation are there for each other.

We’ve been there for each other this past week, and we will be there for each other in tough days, weeks, months and years to come.

It’s what we do.

As someone simply wrote on the Globe website: “Amen.”

A Remarkable Day

“The cameras may leave. The spotlight may shift. But we will be with you every step of the way until Joplin is restored. We’re not going anywhere. That is not just my promise; that’s America’s promise.”

Barack Obama, Joplin, Mo., May 29, 2011

There are lots of great pictures of Barack Obama’s inspirational visit to Joplin on Sunday, but I just want to post one that I think captures much about Mr. Obama and the residents hit hardest by the tornado. Former or current Joplinites know what I mean:

Okay. Maybe two photos:

 [Top: AP; Bottom: White House]

The War On Terror And Aid To Joplin

I just want to remind everyone who has a Scroogish opinion about federal disaster aid to Joplin of one thing: The Iraq and Afghanistan wars are costing us at a minimum $3 billion—every week of the year.  To put that in perspective, that’s the reported estimated damage caused by the tornado that hit our city a week ago, destroying or severely damaging almost one-third of it.

Here is a conservative estimate of the total cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars—no offsets for them, you know; all have been and are being paid for with borrowed money—as of 8:30pm Central Standard Time:

 

If you follow and buy into the argument by Nobel prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz, you get a much higher number.  Just in the case of the Iraq War, Stiglitz estimated the cost to be, well, his book (co-authored with Linda Bilmes) was titled, “The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict,” so you get the idea.  It’s a lot.

Stiglitz believes that the Iraq war has had particular macroeconomic effects that are not part of the calculation most people make when totaling up the cost of the war.  For instance, he argues that “the war has led to higher oil prices.”  In his book he only conservatively attributed a $5-10 increase to the war, but believes “a reasonable number would be at least $35 and probably much more.”

He also argues that the war spending in Iraq didn’t and doesn’t have much of a stimulative effect on our economy, either in the short or long run:

If we spend money for somebody from Nepal to work in Iraq it does not stimulate the American economy in the same way as building a road in America or hiring a teacher in America. It certainly does not increase long-run productivity in the United States.

The third argument he makes, related to the Joplin emergency funding issue,  is this one:

This war was financed totally by deficit financing, unlike any other war.  Normally when countries go to war they talk about shared sacrifice. As America went to war we lowered the taxes on upper-income Americans. Really very strange behaviour in a context in which we already had a large deficit. The national debt has grown by almost $1 trillion just because of the war and by 2017 we estimate it will rise by another $1 trillion.  That is a lot of money.

He adds:

These three factors have led to a depressing of the U.S. economy today and weakening the U.S. economy in the future.

He also believes that “lax monetary policy” by the Federal Reserve, which was implemented in order to compensate for the decreased purchasing power in the economy resulting from higher oil prices, led to a distortion in the economy that itself contributed to the pre-collapse bubble before the fall of 2008.  How do you calculate that cost?

Finally, Stiglitz points out that the long-term cost of disability payments and health-care costs for wounded soldiers, and the cost for replacing equipment lost or damaged during the war, all add up to his final cost of what he called “a war of choice.” 

And the simple point is that in the case of the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan—both wars of choice that have been deficit-funded—no one in the Republican Party argued that the costs of the wars had to be offset in the budget or else there would be no funding for those wars.

As a commenter on this blog pointed out,

Picking up the pieces of disasters such as the one that hit Joplin is one of the many reasons why we have a government in the first place.

So, before anyone argues with me about “bailing” out Joplin, or argues that the costs of emergency funding for our city should be offset with cuts elsewhere in the budget and thus become part of a protracted political fight, please tell me why you weren’t arguing since 2001 for cutting the budget to fund our war efforts.

That’s what I thought.

AP: President Obama’s Visit To Joplin Today Is On “Unfriendly Political Ground”

The Associated Press reported President Obama’s upcoming visit to Joplin later today this way:

The president travels to tornado-wrecked Joplin, Mo., on Sunday, a day after returning from a six-day European tour of Ireland, England, France and Poland.After days of focusing on the U.S. relationship with the rest of the world, he’ll turn to an even more critical connection: his own, with the American people.

[…]

Though times of trouble can erase politics and unite people, a phenomenon Obama has commented on, his task as healer Sunday will be carried out on unfriendly political ground as his re-election campaign approaches. Obama narrowly lost Missouri to Republican John McCain in 2008, but in Jasper County, where Joplin is located, McCain won by a large margin: 66 percent to 33 percent.

Jasper County is unfriendly political ground?  Yes.  But hopefully not today.

Local Coverage Of Tornado Aftermath Courtesy Of The Joplin Globe

The Sunday edition of the Joplin Globe has excellent coverage of the events of the last week here in our city.

The Globe has provided free access to the electronic edition of the complete paper, which is available here.

Forbes: Congressman Billy Long is “Caught In An Ideological Buzz-Saw”

Clay Bowler of Bungalow Bill’s Conservative Wisdom pointed me to a story on Forbes about the “perverse GOP ideology” related to the controversy brewing in Congress over emergency aid to Joplin.

Not only does the writer, Rick Ungar, point out Eric Cantor’s “rather heartless engagement with this heartbreaking situation,” he mentions our own congressman:

…it turns out that Joplin is represented in Congress by a Tea Party backed Republican named Billy Long – one of the angry freshmen elected to Congress on a platform of being ‘fed up’ with career politicians and who ran on the motto that he was “Tea Party before Tea Party was cool.”

So, what is a Tea Party Congressman – dedicated to smaller government and individual responsibility – to do when the very people who are hurt and in serious need of federal assistance are the same people who sent him to Congress in support of his uber-conservative beliefs?

In Long’s case, the answer -so far- has been to do nothing as he weighs his ideological commitment against the dramatic needs of his constituents and the political damage that might follow whatever decision he makes.

Ungar ends his rather long piece with this:

Check in next November on the status of Billy Long’s Congressional career.

I have a feeling that this Tea Partier from a Tea Party district will be looking for new work as his inability to side with the folks who count on him – simply because he was caught in an ideological buzz-saw – will be more than enough to make him a one-term Congressman.

Where have you heard that before?

Tea Party Chickens

How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown?            

Bob Dylan

 

The following excerpt from a Jonathan Allen story on Politico is for anyone out there who thought my question for Congressman Billy Long—about the GOP’s expressed reluctance to provide Joplin with federal aid—was irrelevant or a joke:

While much of Joplin, Mo., is still under rubble from a devastating tornado, conservatives in Congress are starting to argue for a tougher approach to disaster aid, demanding that any funding be offset by cutting federal money elsewhere.

Disasters will no longer be considered “emergencies” if conservatives win this battle to redefine the way Congress funds aid packages for states and cities stricken by natural and man-made catastrophes.

Get that? Republicans are “demanding” that what once was considered by all parties to be emergency funding will now be subject to a political fight, if the GOP has its way.  Surely, now everyone can see that asking our congressional representative Billy Long where he stands on that issue might be of some relevance?

Southeast Missouri Republican Jo Ann Emerson had no trouble making herself clear.  She told Politico:

“I do not believe in offsetting emergency funds, period,” Missouri Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, a senior GOP member of the spending panel, said.*

As Politico points out, “more than $1 trillion” was added to the deficit “by designating most spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as ’emergency’ funding.”  Yet, we have the prospect of House Republicans, and who knows about the Senate, of putting Joplin’s aid right in the middle of a protracted political fight. 

Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill said on the Senate floor:

There is no question that we have to be careful about the way we spend federal money. But with all due respect to Congressman Cantor, I have a hard time believing that if this were in his congressional district, he would be talking about how additional disaster relief would not be available unless we found some other program to take it from…We must be there for them. We all must stand with Joplin; all of America must stand with Joplin, and we will.”

Exactly.

On Morning Joe this morning, Politico‘s chief White House correspondent, Mike Allen, called the House GOP stance a “radical idea“:

This is a basic change in the way Congress does business. This is part of House Republicans effort to say “We’re gonna do things completely differently.”  In the past, when floods, terrorism, hurricanes, tornadoes, came up, and they’re in need of aid, that was considered an emergency and Congress just spent money that it didn’t have, spent money regardless of spending caps that they set for itself.

House Republicans are taking a pretty radical idea and saying if we’re going to spend on these emergencies, we’re gonna take that money from someone else…

It’s coming up with Joplin because there’s gonna be a big, big tab there and Republicans are saying, “We’re not just gonna write Missouri a check. We’re gonna take that money out of somewhere else, and President Obama, if you want to request money for Missouri, we’re gonna find cuts elsewhere.”  This is brand new, in the past it was just spent as free money. That if somebody needed aid, that it was just put out on top of whatever else Congress was doing.

For all my Joplin Tea Party friends, for all the Tea Party folks here in Southwest Missouri, this is a test of your radical Tea Party ideas. I have been to three Tea Party rallies here in Joplin and I have heard the same thing each time: Government is the problem and we need to cut, cut, cut. People are taxed too much and Obama is a socialist.

Well, that socialist will soon request emergency funds from Congress** to send to Joplin and apparently a majority of Republicans in the House are willing to play chicken with him, just as they have done on the budget and the debt ceiling increase.

So, what we are witnessing with this Tea Party-radical move by Republicans in Congress to change the rules for emergency spending—after they have spent $1 trillion on “emergency” funding for Iraq and Afghanistan and after they have approved of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans—is Tea Party chickens coming home to roost right here in the middle of Tea Party Nation, here in our beloved city.

How does it feel?

________________________________

* The Huffington Post reported this

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), a member of the Appropriations Committee, showed The Huffington Post photos of her district under 12 feet of water as a result of flooding from the storms. She said an emergency aid package shouldn’t need to be paid for with spending cuts but said she has “no doubt” that some of her colleagues on the committee will push for offsets. She guessed that none of them will come from disaster-prone areas.

“It makes me sad” that some Republicans are insisting on offsets for natural disaster of this scale, Emerson said. And in the case of Cantor, “I was disappointed. I need to take him to my district.”

Still, she said she is hopeful that some committee Republicans will side with her in not pushing for offsets, particularly some of the newer members who hail from districts hurt by the storms. People have a change of heart on spending “all of a sudden when it becomes personal,” she said. “My own constituents would be horrified if I didn’t do everything I could” to get aid.

________________________________

** In case you missed it, here is how the President ended his remarks on Tuesday about the storms across the midwest:

I know that a lot of people are wondering how they’ll get through the coming days or months or even years, but I want everybody in Joplin, everybody in Missouri, everybody in Minnesota, everybody across the Midwest to know that we are here for you.  The American people are by your side.  We’re going to stay there until every home is repaired, until every neighborhood is rebuilt, until every business is back on its feet.  That’s my commitment, and that’s the American people’s commitment.

 [Updated Claire McKaskill’s comments at 12:30pm]

Roy Blunt’s Letter To Obama

Rare Praise For Roy Blunt

From stltoday.com:

WASHINGTON • Sen. Roy Blunt said this morning he believes damage from the Joplin tornado could reach $3 billion. He wants the federal government to assume a bigger share of cleanup costs than usual.

You’ll note he said nothing about “offsets” in the budget or any other such nonsense lately on the lips of House Republicans.  This response by Blunt is exactly what I would have expected from Rep. Billy Long, when I asked him about Eric Cantor’s budget offsets-or-else-no-money-for-Joplin comments .

On this issue, even if only on this issue, Roy Blunt gets it and he’s not about to play politics with federal funds for our devastated city. Not only would that be the wrong thing to do, it could change the politics in this part of the country. 

I give Roy Blunt rare kudos for his statement on federal help.

He also exhibited reasonableness regarding the timing of President Obama’s visit to Joplin:

Responding to a question, Blunt said he believed that President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit Joplin on Sunday after a trip to Europe was soon enough.

“I don’t think the president could have been particularly helpful” coming earlier, he said. “I have plenty of things to disagree with the president on; this doesn’t happen to be one of them.”

Obviously, Blunt’s reaction to events here is what all of us were eager to hear. And his comments transcend politics, as they should. 

Again, kudos to him.

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