Billy Long: A Profile In Courage?

Yesterday I mentioned that Colonel Ozark Billy Long, my congressman, attached his name to a letter addressed to the cut-the-deficit supercommittee, a letter that was signed by 40 House Republicans—37 of whom have at one time signed the Grover Norquist pledge not to ever, ever, ever raise taxes—and 60 House Democrats suggesting that,

To succeed, all options for mandatory and discretionary spending and revenues must be on the table.

That word “revenues” has impregnated many folks with hope that Republicans, at least some of them in the House, have come to their senses about the need to increase government revenues. (Jim DeMint has attempted to abort that hope with a list of 33 Senators who pledge to keep having political intercourse with Grover Norquist, however.)

One of my favorite pundits, Lawrence O’Donnell, even had a segment last night in which he posted the mugs of the 40 House Republicans under an approving header:

You may have noticed that red circle around the mug of Ozark Billy, which I put there to indicate that I don’t agree with the suggestion that Long’s including himself in the letter to the supercommittee constitutes some kind of profile in courage.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I thought about it. It is something like progress that 40 Republicans were willing to step out of the Norquistian shadows and see reality perhaps for the first time in their lives.

And I wanted to write a nice piece praising my congressman for his courage, for his political valor, for his willingness to give the finger to Grover Norquist.

But then I started thinking.

If someone who had been holding a hostage suddenly decided to let him go, would we be obliged to reward the hostage taker by giving him or her a medal of honor?  Republicans, including most of the signers of the letter, have been serial economic hostage takers. The fact that a few of them may have put the gun down and decided to try another way does not merit uncritical admiration.

Then, I noticed that the letter did not include any specific proposals or any definition of what “revenues” meant, in terms of raising them.  I’m sure most of the Republicans had in mind some kind of tax reform that would lower rates and eliminate deductions, thus possibly—and I say, only “possibly”—resulting in a net increase in government revenue.

And then I started thinking about what Billy Long has said this year.

During the debt-ceiling debate in July, he was quoted in the Springfield News-Leader as saying,

We are not going to raise the debt limit and they need to know that now instead of August 2nd.

The debt-ceiling fiasco nearly everyone now recognizes as one of the low points in American history. On the floor of the house, as the debt-ceiling nonsense raged, he said on July 19, “The people have spoken. The business community has spoken. When will the President and the Democrats listen?” and then he finished with this:

I would like to close with one of the hundreds of letters from one of my constituents:

 “Dear Congressman Long, do not budge. We put you in office to stop these big spenders. Go ahead and call his bluff. I am in tornado-ravaged Joplin and rebuilding my house. I’m glad you are covering my wallet in Washington.”

Call his bluff,” Billy!

As for jobs, in late summer he was quoted in the Joplin Globe as saying that the nation “doesn’t need a jobs project” and,

Now, we over-regulate, overtax-ate and over-litigate.

Overtax-ate“?  In two months has he suddenly changed his mind about the amount of taxes the government collects?  Huh?

On September 22, 2011 on the floor of the House he said,

We don’t do much right up here, and trying to run businesses is not something we should be doing. We should be reducing taxes, reducing spending, reducing regulation.

So, six weeks ago he was saying we should be “reducing taxes” and now he has come to Jesus on the need to raise revenues? Huh?

Then, this Wednesday, the same day the letter to the supercommittee was released, he said (my emphasis):

Mr. Speaker, I came to Congress as a small business owner. And as any small business owner will tell you, the government can’t create jobs, only the private sector can

…the reality is that government spending trades productive private sector jobs for usually wasteful public sector jobs….

As part of the House GOP Plan for America’s Job Creators, we’ve opposed the President whenever he wants to create new taxes or more regulations…

Since President Obama has been the champion of tax cuts, and since he has also been on board with reforming the tax code—as Long himself has said is necessary—it’s hard to say what Ozark Billy means by Obama wanting to create “new taxes,” except new taxes—which really aren’t “new”—on the wealthiest Americans.

Is the Colonel now, by virtue of his letter to the supercommittee, suddenly supporting increased taxes on the wealthy? It’s hard to believe that.

Thus, it’s also hard to give him any credit for courage for putting his name on a letter to the supercommittee that quite generically mentions “revenue” as being on the table.  I do hope, however, that it is a sign of a new phase of reasonableness in the political life of our congressman from Springfield, but I’m not ready to pin a medal on his chest just yet.

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  1. I wonder if Ozark Billy is smart enough to think that way. I agree, though, that he is the pocket of big business and the super wealthy. His voting record and what he has said in the past and present give no indication that he has changed his mind at all. By the way, do you know of anyone who is going to run against him on the Republican side? So far, no Democrat has announced, but surely someone will run against this embarrassment to the seventh district of Missouri.


    • Jim,

      I can’t find one Republican who has so far announced a run against the Colonel. My guess is all the money he has raised has scared most of them away—which is why they raise so much money in the first place!



      • Duane,

        In fairness to Rep. Long, he never said he was “fed up” with collecting checks from special interest lobbyists. I believe his tagline was something along the lines of being “fed up” with Washington D.C.‘s business-as-usual or perhaps the “fed up” line was made after eating a juicy 20 ounce Metro Grill porterhouse steak. Regardless, he’s wasted little time glad handing “we the people” corporate bag men.

        Contrary to those who think Long has a fuzzy handle on bread and butter issues, he’s demonstrated an acute facility for good old fashioned fund raising.


        • John,

          One thing is for sure. Billy Long’s campaign next time will not feature “fed up” in its advertising. He will have to find a new slogan, perhaps “well fed.”



  2. angelfire

     /  November 4, 2011

    Duane – No don’t pin that medal on Long’s chest just yet. The letter is worthless. He’s not raising revenue and neither are any of the others and Long knows it. The letter is a “cover-his-big-butt-letter” —- in the event of an economic nightmare he can always go back to the letter and tell folks, “hey, I was willing to raise taxes….see this letter signed by me….that’s my “x” right there….”. It’s an old political trick…the kind of politics Long said during his campaign he was “fed up” with.

    I’m delighted that the guy from Joplin was glad Billy was watching his wallet. I wouldn’t give him one dime to rebuild….not with my tax money. Joplin should get EXACTLY what they voted for….no new taxes and no tax money….i.e. Billy Long. They could suck and egg for all I care — they GAVE us Billy Long and they should have to deal with the consequences of the Republican’s philosophy. Where ARE those “bootstraps” their Republican asses keep talking about? Why is it when a Republican has a disaster he thinks he’s owed something he would not give to anyone else? Let Rush rebuild Joplin for crying out loud—he’s their God.

    As it stands the folks in Joplin are in the welfare line….voting for the people who would take food out of the working classes mouths and end FEMA if they could.

    I swear the dumbest people live in the Ozarks. I guess I’ll just start learning Chinese.


    • Angelfire,

      I would resist painting all Joplinites with such a broad brush. Jasper County is home to a sizeable contingent of Democrats, though not sizable enough. So, as the Good Book says, the FEMA rain falls on the just and the unjust, or something like that.



  3. ansonburlingame

     /  November 4, 2011


    The last time I checked the “bell curve” applied to any large segment of the population. Do you really believe that Democrats as a large group are smarter than an equal segment of Republicans?

    Last time I checked such was called elitism.



    • angelfire

       /  November 4, 2011

      I find it elitist when a group of people elect someone overwhelmingly who will cut spending where it hurts the common person the most and then the same group will hold out their hand in need even though they would deny others. And EXPECT government to sort of, “forget everything we just said Billy, now that it’s us in need send help fast and don’t think twice about how to pay for it!!!”

      Joplin needs to make up their mind. Either they are conservative ALL the time or they are not. Like most conservatives what comes out of their mouths does not match their actions.

      The rules they make up are for everyone BUT them —– the know it all conservative.


  4. I freely admit that my head is spinning with all the economics data in play at this crucial time in history. Unlike me, however, Rep. Billy Long appears to be unaffected by the dichotomy of holding two diametrically opposing thoughts simultaneously. It must be nice.

    Right now, everyone seems focused on the SuperCommittee, but I am holding out little hope for that. Why? Because:

    1. It is unprecedented, and hence subject to all manner of tweaks and fudging, not to mention party agreements, even if they should agree on something.
    2. The committee is made up of the most extreme ideologues of each party. Duh.

    Meanwhile, rushing right at us is the looming deadline of what to do about the Bush II Tax Cuts, December 31, 2011. I found an interesting recap of how all that played out in a NY Times article, for which I will append a link below.

    My head hurts.


    • Jim,

      Contrary to what most of us would have thunk a few months ago, it is possible that the supercommittee will come up with something, which scares the Limbaugh out of me in one way.

      As for the Bush tax cuts, just before the close of business last session, the New York Times put it this way:

      The House passed a bill reflecting Mr. Obama’s call for the cuts to be extended only on income below $250,000 per household. But Democrats failed to break a Republican filibuster in the Senate on that approach, or an alternative “millionaire’s tax.”

      The only thing that has changed is that this current House is exactly in step with fillibuster-drunk Republicans, so the thing is at an impasse. The only way out (short of letting them completely expire) is a complete reform of the tax code, which gets us back to the supercommittee.

      I think that is where it is going. The committee may propose some kind of framework from which the Congress can reorganize our tax structure, which will give both parties something to brag about, allowing Democrats to raise revenues through eliminating most deductions and allowing Republicans to lower rates.



  5. ansonburlingame

     /  November 4, 2011


    I actually read your link, believe it or not. Good one but I am still confused.

    I THOUGHT the deal in Dec 2010 was that Bush tax cuts across the board would expire in Dec 2011 UNLESS Congressional action mandated otherwise. In other worsd the Bush tax cuts simply “go away” unless Congress actually PASSES a bill to the contrary. That would mean of course with a House and Senate deadlock or a Rep filibuster in the Senate the Bush cuts are no more starting Jan 2012.

    Am I wrong is such assumptions?

    It sounds from the article linked that the tax cuts go away unless Congress yet again extends them in part or in whole. Do Dems really want to pick that fight to EXTEND the cuts for the ….. but eliminate them for the “rich”?

    In other words to Dems really want a New fight on their hands, simply give up and raise taxes on everyone, again, or whatever. Seems to me like the choice is in the hands of Dems unless the Reps pass a House bill to extend again or make permanent the Bush cuts which for sure will go down in flames in the Senate and White House.

    So again, I am confused.



    • Anson,

      Your understanding is the same as mine. If Congress fails to act otherwise, the cuts expire for everyone at the end of next month, and I have no idea what the party positions are on it. As I tried to say above, I am surprised that it’s still unknown. Both sides appear to be hunkered down over the notion that the SuperCommittee will actually come up with a fix that both sides will buy into, and as I said, I just can’t see that happening. (I hope I’m wrong.)

      The expiration of the Bush cuts for both the 2% and the 98% would be bad for both sides as I see it. The cuts have now been in effect for over 10 years. The expiration of them across the board will have the effect of a huge tax increase, just when the economy is struggling to recover, and will probably throw the country back into Recession, something worse for the Democrat administration than the GOP. Expiration for only the 2% will obviously be resisted with religious zeal by the GOP.

      Assuming the SuperCommittee implodes, I predict that Obama will cave in again, just as he did in 2009, and the cuts will be extended for everyone, millionaires and billionaires included. Once again, Obama will put national interests ahead of party.


  6. ansonburlingame

     /  November 4, 2011


    Good, as I am no longer confused. Without some action on the part of govenment the Bush tax cuts wil expire across the board for everyone.

    Now let’s see who “blinks” first and what their rationale might be. My guess is the Dems as they will give it one more shot at raising taxes (eliminatinging tax cuts) on the “rich” only and we will then have a debate over who exactly is “rich”. But you can bet such an attempt to raise taxes will NOT be passed by both Houses of Congress and thus more foder for campaigns late one. Forget what is “right” for America right now which is NO tax increase until growth returns, in my simple view as well as that of evidiently Bill Clinton.



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