Good Journalism; Broken Congress

I  love reading The New York Times headline stories. I continue to be shocked by the fact that Congress is so dysfunctional. The two came together late last week.

Here’s the first sentence of a Times story from early in the week. "Members of Congress feel mighty proud of themselves this week, mainly because they appear to be avoiding a government shutdown — an outcome taken as an actual accomplishment in this turbulent and acrimonious legislature." (Which is exactly what happened early Saturday with a stopgap budget measure to fund day-to-day government through late March 2013).

Other gems from this Times article:

  • The 112th Congress is set to enter the Congressional record books as the least productive body in a generation, passing a mere 173 public laws as of last month. That was well below the 906 enacted from January 1947 through December 1948 by the body President Harry S. Truman referred to as the “do-nothing” Congress, and far fewer than even a single session of many prior Congresses.
  • Appropriations bills, once the central function of the legislative branch, have been ditched in favor of short-term spending measures that do little more than keep the lights on.
  • After the election, when the makeup of the White House and the next Congress are known, there will be a lame-duck session during which myriad tax issues will be tackled, or, somehow punted into the next year.

Saxby Chambliss, a Republican senator from Georgia, sums up the situation. "There has been way too much politics injected into the work that is going on in the Senate. We’ve been spinning our wheels all year."

And that, while true, is simply unbelievable. 

Chamber Celebrates Three Key Highlights of the 2012 Session

The 2012 legislative session should be remembered for far more than being the forum for Indiana becoming the 23rd right-to-work state, says Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar.

"While right-to-work was deservedly the headliner, we finished with the passage of two impressive supporting acts: the statewide smoking ban and the inheritance tax elimination. Both have the potential to positively impact Hoosiers for generations to come," he offers
 
Details and specific comments from Brinegar on these three public policies:

Right-to-work for employees (HB 1001) – Prohibits unions from forcing Indiana workers to join or pay dues and fees to a labor union to get or keep a job in this state; makes it the employees’ choice. Does not eliminate unions or collective bargaining.

"With the passage of right-to-work, Indiana has further distinguished itself from neighboring states and given companies another big reason to bring their business and jobs here – and not there. In the five weeks since it passed, there has already been documented interest from several companies now putting Indiana at the top of the list for their business relocation or expansion."

Statewide smoking ban (HB 1149) – Prohibits smoking in the majority of workplaces (bars/taverns, gambling institutions are biggest exceptions), all restaurants and within eight feet of a building’s public entrance. Local governments may enact stricter ordinances.

"Smoking has direct financial ramifications for all businesses that offer health care insurance and the employees who are covered, not to mention the health implications for those non-smokers who unavoidably encounter second-hand smoke.

"Indiana will now protect 95% of Hoosiers while at work and also allow citizens to eat at a restaurant without having to encounter cigarette or cigar smoke. That is a huge positive development and legislators should be commended for coming together and taking that important step at this time."

Elimination of the state’s inheritance tax (SB 293) – Phases out the inheritance tax incrementally over a nine-year period beginning in 2013, with elimination of the tax complete in 2022. Also expands the more favorably-treated Class A category of inheritors and raises the inheritance amount (currently very low) that’s excluded from the tax; both provisions take effect this year.

"This tax only amounted to 1% of total state revenue but made things unnecessarily burdensome for so many Hoosiers. For a small family-owned business, the inheritance tax could be a tremendous hindrance to even continuing after the death of the owner."

We Agree? Maybe?

NPR has a story around a premise that may not shock you: Americans have a hard time agreeing with each other. But, being the head-in-the-clouds optimist my friends and coworkers know me to be, I’ve skipped to the end of the article, where it mentions some things we actually do agree on.

Here are a few areas of national accord:

  • More than 90 percent of Americans believe in God or in some form of universal power, according to a 2008 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
  • More than 90 percent of Americans believe that future generations should be prepared for the ramifications of living in a global society, according to a 2007 report by NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
  • More than 90 percent are proud of the members of the U.S. military who served in Iraq, a CNN/ORC International poll finds.
  • More than 90 percent of Americans agree that the development of good math skills is essential to success in life, an Ogilvy PR survey revealed in 2010
  • So God, globalism, troop support and math — these are things all Americans can agree on.

"We have several other issues on which 80 percent of Americans agree, such as, I believe, giving tax credits to manufacturers to bring back jobs from overseas," Newport says.

And when he is asked if Gallup has found any one salient issue that really brings all Americans together, Newport says there is one: More than 90 percent of Americans believe it was right to kill Osama bin Laden.

It’s Time to Decide RTW Issue

Indiana House Democrats are correct: Right-to-work (or any important legislation) deserves comprehensive consideration before it is voted upon and potentially enacted.

But the House D’s own web site acknowledges that the issue has been thoroughly debated already.

• Numerous meetings conducted earlier this year by the Interim Study Committee on Employment provided overwhelming proof that making Indiana a “right-to-work” state …

 “Even though months of testimony provided no proof that ‘right-to-work’ would bring new jobs to Indiana …

"Numerous meetings" and "months of testimony" qualify as comprehensive consideration. It’s time for the issue to be decided before the full General Assembly, starting with the joint committee hearing scheduled for Friday morning.

Hoosiers want their representatives to do the jobs they were elected to do, not play games or use delaying tactics. Whether Indiana becomes the 23rd right-to-work state needs to be decided on its own merits.

Let the debate — not the games — continue.  And if you need more facts to help you decide where you stand on the issue, check out our web site.

Oh, Congress: They Really Just Can’t Agree on Much of Anything

While some might say the lack of activity in Congress in 2011 is a good thing (the no action, no harm mentality), the numbers certainly back up the feeling that Congress has been largely missing in action when it comes to proactively enacting laws to better our country.

No political fights here about who is to blame. Just some statistics from The Washington Post that demonstrate the depth of what has not taken place.

Through Nov. 30, the House had passed 326 bills, the fewest in at least 10 non-election years, according to annual tallies in the Congressional Record. The Senate had approved 368 measures, the fewest since 1995.

By comparison, the House approved 970 bills in 2009 and 1,127 in 2007. The Senate totals for those years were 478 and 621, respectively. (Both chambers are expected to pass more bills before adjourning this month, but probably not enough to change the overall picture.)

And the White House need not fear an ink shortage — Obama had signed only 62 bills into law through November. The last time there was a new Republican majority in the House and a Democrat in the White House, 1995, President Bill Clinton signed 88 measures.

James Thurber, the director of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, called the overall numbers “Exhibit A in showing how dysfunctional the Congress has become.”

In particular, Thurber noted that Congress has spent significant time and political effort this year squabbling over a series of short-term spending bills and raising the debt ceiling.

“The failure of the appropriations process has limited their ability to do other things,” Thurber said.

As for bills becoming law, split control of Congress has obviously played a role in the relatively low number; the House and Senate have had difficulty agreeing on anything this year.

The last comparable dynamic came in 2001, when Republicans controlled the White House and the House and Democrats held the Senate after May, when Sen. James Jeffords (Vt.) left the GOP. President George W. Bush signed 136 bills into law that year. 

Brinegar on Today’s Right-to-Work Announcement by Statehouse Leaders

Comments from Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar on the announcement today by House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long that right-to-work legislation will take priority in the 2012 session:

“Passing a right-to-work law is the single most important action our lawmakers can take to put more Hoosiers back to work. Currently, we have more than 200,000 people unemployed in Indiana and many more at risk as employers deal with a still unstable economy. A right-to-work law would open the door to attracting new and expanding companies and the numerous jobs they bring.

“Site selection experts from across the country will tell anyone who will listen that between one third and nearly half of the companies that hire them to find a good location won’t even consider non right-to-work states for their business growth and expansion plans. So Indiana is automatically out of the running in far too many instances.

“Other Midwestern states such a Michigan and Kentucky are now looking at passing right-to-work to gain a dramatic competitive advantage for jobs. We cannot afford to fall behind the competition.

“Right-to-work is about creating jobs, economic growth and fairness. Arguments to the contrary are smoke and mirrors. Right-to-work laws do not prohibit labor unions or collective bargaining, but simply protect workers from being forced to join or pay dues and fees to a labor union.  Workers would still have the right to join or support a labor union, only now it would be his or her decision to make. That’s simply fair.

“Case in point, right-to-work legislation was passed more than 15 years ago for Hoosier teachers. It certainly didn’t destroy their unions or collective bargaining rights, and it didn’t result in lower wages for teachers.

“Going forward, the Indiana Chamber will work to help citizens and lawmakers realize that a vote for right-to-work is a vote for job creation and worker freedom. A person shouldn’t have to be forced to join a union in order to get or keep a job. Today was an important step and I applaud legislative leadership for displaying determination with this issue.”

New Hampshire Gearing Up for GOP Primary Fight

It’s getting to be that time when politicos all around the country start living on Red Bull as primaries begin heating up — and circus-like cable news debates dominate Twitter conversation. This time around, it’s Republicans working to find a candidate who can defeat a rather unpopular incumbent president. But, of course, if you’ve been watching the debates and/or the latest mini-scandal surrounding Herman Cain, you can see why a GOP victory is far from a certainty. In this Real Clear Politics article, the focus is on Mitt Romney’s efforts in New Hampshire and how other candidates are hoping to stop him.

The former Massachusetts governor has not yet aired advertisements in New Hampshire, instead choosing to conserve his resources for a potentially lengthy primary fight. But Romney’s campaign is leery about being lulled to sleep here, and several other candidates seem poised to give him at least some reason for concern.

Though Michele Bachmann’s New Hampshire campaign remains on life support after the defection of her entire statewide staff, several viable GOP contenders are set to boost their efforts here.

Rick Perry remains mired in the low single digits in state polls, but his campaign has shown no signs of giving up here despite growing questions about whether he should devote most of his resources to Iowa and South Carolina — the two early-voting states that appear to be his most likely vehicles for a national comeback.

The Texas governor is launching a New Hampshire TV and radio advertising campaign on Wednesday, as he joins Ron Paul as the only candidates to air ads here thus far.

Perry’s wife, Anita, will campaign in the state on Friday and Perry himself will likely return by the end of the month, according to aides.

“He’s going to be campaigning hard in New Hampshire, and he has been campaigning hard,” said Perry’s New Hampshire strategist Paul Young.

Though the three-term governor may be able to survive a poor showing in New Hampshire if he exceeds expectations in the other early-voting states, the same cannot be said for Jon Huntsman. The former Utah governor recently moved his national campaign staff to New Hampshire and has banked his underdog candidacy on pulling off a surprise victory here.

Huntsman drew a crowd of almost 200 mostly college-age voters on Tuesday for a speech at the University of New Hampshire on energy policy. In it, he vowed to eventually eliminate all energy subsidies and called for an end to the oil “monopoly as a transportation fuel.”

Tuesday Vote; 2012 Consequences

Elections, no matter the year, do make a difference. Sure, some are more important than others. Michael Davis, who led the Indiana Chamber’s political affairs efforts before joining BIPAC in Washington, offers his analysis of what next week’s national votes mean for the states involved and for 2012. Here are some excerpts:

With three states holding gubernatorial contests, four states holding state legislative elections plus numerous special election and ballot initiatives, the 2011 elections may give us an early preview of how upset voters will be throughout next year.

The results for next week’s elections, particularly the fights for control of the Virginia State Senate and the Mississippi House of Representatives, may give us an early indicator of what issues will be top of mind for voters (economy, jobs), which voter base is more motivated (look for turnout numbers of those identified as younger voters, Tea Party supporters, 2008 Obama supporters and independent voters) and if voters will continue to be more than willing to retire incumbent candidates seeking re-election (should be higher than historical averages, but will they be higher than that of the last couple of cycles?).

One of the big stories of the night could be the locking up of the South by Republicans.  If the GOP can gain control of the Virginia Senate and Mississippi House, Republicans will control the State House, State Senate and Governor’s office of every Southern state except Arkansas.

Here is a list of top races to watch on Tuesday, November 8:

Control of the Virginia Senate.  Democrats currently control the State Senate by a 22-18 margin, but Republicans in Richmond are optimistic they will win back control.This would give Republicans control of the Senate, House and Governor’s office at the same for only the second time in state history. Following the election, control over the state’s congressional redistricting process looms large.

Control of the Mississippi House. Democrats currently control the House by a 68-54 margin with Republicans strongly knocking on the door to win control. Like in Virginia, this would give Republicans control of the Senate, House and Governor’s office. The Republican playing field is large enough and there are clearly enough districts with favorable numbers to put Republicans in control.

Ballot measures. Issue 2 in Ohio, an effort to repeal a 2011 act that places limits on collective bargaining for public employees, will likely attract the most national attention.

Iowa State Senate District 18 special election. With Democrats holding a 25 to 24 majority, this special election will result in either Democrats holding a 26 to 24 majority or the State Senate being evenly split 25 to 25 heading into the 2012 legislative session. Anyone who has been through an evenly a legislative session with an evenly split legislative body can give you an excellent definition of "chaos" or "gridlock."   

Pres. Obama Losing Support of Independents

Here are some interesting — though maybe not surprising — findings from a poll following our latest government debt deal drama. It shows President Obama is losing the independent voters that were so crucial to his initial election. Although, does this mean they’ll be voting for the GOP in 2012? My gut tells me a lot of people will stay at home with a case of disgust that day, although much could change for both parties between now and then.

President Barack Obama has sought to cut deals with congressional Republicans, including the “grand bargain” to cut the deficit and raise the debt limit, partly to appeal to independent voters, aides suggest.

It appears Mr. Obama still has a long way to go, according to a CNN/ORC International poll.

In a hypothetical matchup with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the GOP race’s front-runner, the president loses the all-important independents 53% to 41%. Among the larger survey of registered voters, Messrs Obama and Romney are running neck and neck, 49% to 48%.

In a matchup with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Mr. Obama is ahead 51% to 46%, while independents split evenly –46% –for the two men.

The survey of registered voters has a margin of error of three percentage points. The margin increases to 4.5 percentage points for responses from independents.

Mr. Obama still tops every declared Republican candidate in the poll’s hypothetical contests, but it shows voters prefer former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has not taken any serious steps toward running, over Mr. Obama, 51% to 45%) But independents generally decide elections – they sent Mr. Obama to the White House in 2008, and they gave Republicans control of the House in 2010.

  

Who’s Representing You?

As a part of the decennial census and as required by law, the Indiana General Assembly recently passed new legislative district maps for Indiana’s state house, state senate and congressional districts. If you haven’t already seen the new maps you can do so at these links: House, Senate, Congress.

While the timeline to drawing these maps were very similar, when they are actually implemented is a whole other issue. The Terre Haute Tribune-Star brought to light this fact in a recent article.

So who are your current legislators? The Indiana House and Congress are following the standard model. For example, even if your home has been drawn into a new legislative district your current representation in the Indiana House and Congress would remain the same prior to the redistricting until after the 2012 Election when you have had a chance to vote on your new representative.

The Indiana Senate is different. Here, your state senator might change based on the new Indiana Senate district map with the decision to go ahead and implement those changes prior to the next election. The reason for this is because only half of the Indiana Senate is elected at any given election. The Senate believes that enacting those changes now will avoid confusion later.

Got it? If not, use the new Indiana Senate district map and compare it to the list of Indiana senators here to see who’s representing you.