U.S. House: Technology, Tight Budgets Terminate Page Program

I’m not sure what’s more surprising: the U.S. House of Representatives cutting the more than 200-year-old page program or the fact that the words “joint statement issued” are in the same sentence as the words “House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).”

Okay, that last part was a little dig at the lack of cooperation between our major political parties as witnessed during the recent debt ceiling debacle. It’s a bit of a shock to see Congressional leaders agree on anything nowadays.

But, back to the main issue: The Washington Post is reporting that with a cost of about $5 million per year and technological advances coming in to take the place of many of the duties of the typical House page, the program will be shuttered, at the advice of two consulting firms working with Congress.

High school juniors are hired for a semester and paid about $1,804 a month with a 35% room-and-board fee deducted. Page duties include running errands for House members, delivering correspondence to lawmakers and answering phones in the cloakrooms off the House floor.

The problem is that technology (documents and notes are now delivered electronically and smartphones and text messaging have largely replaced the need for pages to answer phones) has increased to the point where pages are no longer necessary for the House to run smoothly.

While it is a shame to think that students who might never have a chance to see the American political machine up close will no longer have that opportunity – if the program is largely unnecessary and costing $5 million per year, it does make sense in this tight fiscal time to shut it down.

There are still ways for young people to be involved in the political system. Indiana, like most states, has an in-state page program working with the state legislature. Most Congressional leaders also hire college interns to work in their offices and the U.S. Senate will continue its page program.

One commenter on the Post’s story says, “This is shockingly sensible, even if it is a little sad.”

That’s a great way to sum it up.

It seems that to get out of this fiscal trouble, more programs which are good in theory and beneficial to those involved (such as the page program), will be sacrificed. And now there’s just that minor task of cutting several trillion dollars from the rest of the budget.

Pelosi Survives as Dem Leader

As was expected, Nancy Pelosi retained her post as Democratic House Leader yesterday by a vote of 150-43 over Blue Dog Heath Shuler. See a full Politico article and video of Shuler’s takeaways from the vote here.

Pelosi’s win as Democratic leader was expected, but the bumpy ride was perhaps the greatest challenge to her authority since she claimed the speaker’s gavel four years ago. Pelosi defeated conservative North Carolina Democrat Heath Shuler, who ran for minority leader saying, “We need to include others in leadership.”

Pelosi’s victory all but assures that the Democratic leadership team will remain intact despite a historic loss of at least 61 seats in the Nov. 2 election. Several moderate lawmakers in the anti-Pelosi camp used two days of private meetings to vent their frustrations, and in some cases blame Pelosi for the heavy Democratic losses. (See: Democrats in chaos over Nancy Pelosi’s power)

Separately, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who declined to challenge Pelosi for minority leader, was elected minority whip by acclamation on a quick voice vote.

"She is the face that defeated us in this last election," said Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), who lost reelection on Nov. 2. “The truth is Nancy Pelosi’s season has passed, and she’s the face of the defeat two weeks ago at the polls.”

Three Democrats in the Shuler camp — Jim Matheson of Utah, Mike Ross of Arkansas and Larry Kissell of North Carolina — have already vowed to vote against Pelosi on the House floor in January.

Shuler was surprised he did as well as he did; the 43 votes represent more than 20 percent of the Democratic caucus.

Pelosi Facing Bite from Blue Dogs?

The Democratic Blue Dog Coalition has been a rather enigmatic lot in recent years. And its members get grief from liberals for being too conservative and/or too corporate, yet Indiana’s Blue Dog Congressmen (Brad Ellsworth, Baron Hill, Joe Donnelly, etc.) are constantly blasted in the conservative blogosphere for being — pardon me for this — "lapdogs" for the Obama administration.

But now, it seems Speaker Pelosi may be taking genuine heat from this caucus. Roll Call explains:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has made passing a jobs agenda her top priority this year, but an anti-deficit insurgency led by Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), the administrative co-chairwoman of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, has forced Pelosi to scale back her ambitions.

With concerns about deficits rising and rank-and-file Democrats fearing losses in November, Blue Dog clout has soared in recent weeks, and liberal priorities from health care benefits for the jobless to tens of billions of dollars in aid to the states have ended up on the chopping block. In the tumult, Herseth Sandlin has emerged to head a new generation of Blue Dogs as old-guard members such as Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) are heading for the exits or lowering their profiles.

The pivotal moment came shortly before the Memorial Day recess, with Pelosi planning to push through a nearly $200 billion package of tax cut extensions, doctor payments, jobless benefits and state aid. But Herseth Sandlin warned the measure didn’t have the votes and would have to be trimmed significantly.

“While we’ve been invited to share our concerns and leadership has listened, not everyone is hearing us,” she told reporters at the time.

Within a day, Democratic leaders were forced to carve their bill nearly in half in a mad scramble for votes.

And this week, the leadership’s plans for a war spending bill had to be cut back in the face of demands from Blue Dogs that add-on aid for states and money for the Pell Grant program be fully offset. The bill will include just $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs — less than half the amount sought by leadership and President Barack Obama…

Blue Dogs won another victory in this year’s budget battles by extracting a $7 billion cut from Obama’s budget request — a level that will likely force cuts to some domestic spending programs treasured by liberals.

So what do you think? Genuine uproar within the party that could alter its platform, or just contrived friction that will ultimately mean nothing?

UPDATE: Also discovered this article, contemplating a possible Blue Dog coup to overtake Pelosi’s speakership. Doesn’t seem likely, but an interesting thought.

Have a Good Laugh at 2009

Let’s be honest. This year, well, t’was a bit of a downer. But humorist Dave Barry has an amusing take on the last year of the aughts (or perhaps the aught-nots). You should read the entire column, but here’s the intro:

It was a year of Hope — at first in the sense of “I feel hopeful!” and later in the sense of “I hope this year ends soon!”

It was also a year of Change, especially in Washington, where the tired old hacks of yesteryear finally yielded the reins of power to a group of fresh, young, idealistic, new-idea outsiders such as Nancy Pelosi. As a result Washington, rejecting “business as usual,” finally stopped trying to solve every problem by throwing billions of taxpayer dollars at it and instead started trying to solve every problem by throwing trillions of taxpayer dollars at it.

Help Stop This Health Care Train Wreck

There is no question that health care reform is needed. Is the answer the legislation that is scheduled to be voted on Saturday by the U.S. House of Representatives? Absolutely not.

If you disagree and support the mandates, fees and costs that will add $1.2 trillion (that’s "t" as in trillion) in debt, stop reading. If you don’t think those items should be part of the solution, let your congressional representative know today. The Indiana Prosperity Project has the details.

Why not H.R. 3962? The victims would include small business and their employees (both those who would lose their jobs as well as the ones remaining), insurers, health care providers, manufacturers of medical devices and more. Can we really deliver another devastating blow to companies that are still trying to recover from the recession?

Gov. Mitch Daniels wrote to Indiana’s delegation, saying, "The current House bill is the worst version yet, with truly awful consequences for Indiana." The Wall Street Journal calls the legislation "the worst bill ever."

If this is bad, what is good? Here’s a partial roadmap that should be followed:

The Indiana Chamber believes that, with a few simple reforms and changes in incentives for providers, that market forces will succeed in introducing more competition to the marketplace and ultimately driving down costs.  The Chamber supports an approach where widely accepted reforms are passed first, instead of the "all or none" approach that attempts to force passage of controversial legislation (such as a public option).  If, as President Obama has asserted, 80 percent of reform can be agreed upon, then it is these incremental, common-sense measures that should be pursued. 

The Chamber supports reform that seeks: to foster and preserve efficient private insurance markets; to realign economic incentives from fee-for-service to outcome-based compensation for providers; to enhance the use of medical information technology; and to standardize insurance procedures, as well as introduce more competition between private insurers (e.g., selling health insurance across state lines).  Decisions on treatment and coverage levels should be made cooperatively among patients, providers and insurers. Insurer scrutiny should ensure provider pricing transparency, best practices and the use of evidence-based medicine. Additionally, any real reform of the U.S. health care system must acknowledge and address abusive lawsuits and the rising costs of medical malpractice insurance.

The first step is to stop a very bad piece of legislation from emerging from the U.S. House. You can make a difference.

Cap and Trade Vote Pending?

The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the proposed cap and trade legislation, which could get a vote as early as Friday. Many are still worried that if this measure does stop global warming, it may do so by freezing the wallets of American businesses and consumers in the process:

Despite House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman’s many payoffs to Members, rural and Blue Dog Democrats remain wary of voting for a bill that will impose crushing costs on their home-district businesses and consumers. The leadership’s solution to this problem is to simply claim the bill defies the laws of economics.

Their gambit got a boost this week, when the Congressional Budget Office did an analysis of what has come to be known as the Waxman-Markey bill. According to the CBO, the climate legislation would cost the average household only $175 a year by 2020. Edward Markey, Mr. Waxman’s co-author, instantly set to crowing that the cost of upending the entire energy economy would be no more than a postage stamp a day for the average household. Amazing. A closer look at the CBO analysis finds that it contains so many caveats as to render it useless.

For starters, the CBO estimate is a one-year snapshot of taxes that will extend to infinity. Under a cap-and-trade system, government sets a cap on the total amount of carbon that can be emitted nationally; companies then buy or sell permits to emit CO2. The cap gets cranked down over time to reduce total carbon emissions.

To get support for his bill, Mr. Waxman was forced to water down the cap in early years to please rural Democrats, and then severely ratchet it up in later years to please liberal Democrats. The CBO’s analysis looks solely at the year 2020, before most of the tough restrictions kick in. As the cap is tightened and companies are stripped of initial opportunities to "offset" their emissions, the price of permits will skyrocket beyond the CBO estimate of $28 per ton of carbon. The corporate costs of buying these expensive permits will be passed to consumers.

The biggest doozy in the CBO analysis was its extraordinary decision to look only at the day-to-day costs of operating a trading program, rather than the wider consequences energy restriction would have on the economy. The CBO acknowledges this in a footnote: "The resource cost does not indicate the potential decrease in gross domestic product (GDP) that could result from the cap."

The hit to GDP is the real threat in this bill. The whole point of cap and trade is to hike the price of electricity and gas so that Americans will use less. These higher prices will show up not just in electricity bills or at the gas station but in every manufactured good, from food to cars. Consumers will cut back on spending, which in turn will cut back on production, which results in fewer jobs created or higher unemployment. Some companies will instead move their operations overseas, with the same result.

The Chicago Tribune also chimed in today, noting the bill has grown from 900 to over 1,200 pages in a matter of a couple days. Due to the added girth, do you think legislators actually know what they’re voting on at this point? Probably should considering the magnitude and implications this would impose. (Hat tip to our federal legislative guru Cam Carter for passing this story along.)