Plenty of Blame to Go Around

Our most recent blog poll asked who was to blame for the then ongoing mess (otherwise known as the federal government shutdown and inability to agree on just about anything) in Washington. Your votes were similar to some of the national polls:

  • House Republicans: 41%
  • President Obama: 16%
  • Senate Democrats: 6%
  • All of the above: 31%

Some of you bypassed the vote and simply went to the comment box. The two themes there were "my way or no way at all" in reference to the President and the "impact of the Tea Party in Republican primaries."

Our new poll (top right) seeks your view on holiday shopping and whether you'll be driving to the store or using a hard drive (for online purchases).

From One Chief Executive to Another on Coal and Carbon Dioxide

Frequent readers here or of other Chamber communications have no doubt taken notice of the alarming Washington trend of government by regulation. Numerous reports, the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Ten Thousand Commandments among the latest, have examined this dangerous development. Congress may be deadlocked, but government agencies are the ones putting the stranglehold on businesses in Indiana and throughout the country.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence weighed in this week with a letter to President Obama regarding carbon dioxide standards that are being considered by the Environmental Protection Agency. Pence writes, in part, that the "EPA is proposing a rule that will constrain any potential for an all of the above energy strategy and harm our economy in the process."

The Governor points out that Indiana will be particularly impacted because of its status as one of the leading manufacturing states. While the energy mix has been diversified, coal will remain the major source of electricity. Pence says, "The coal industry and electricity providers have made great strides toward lower emissions, and, as we replace our aging electricity generation plants, I have no doubt that we will find ways to lower emissions even further."

View the full letter — and let's hope Washington pays attention!

President Controls the Big States in 2012 Vote

Former Chamber colleague Michael Davis shared this election follow-up recently:

In the 2012 election, 20 states recorded at least 2.5 million votes for president.  President Obama won 15 states while Governor Mitt Romney won 5 states.
Here are the 15 states Obama won (for a total of 276 electoral votes) in order of total ballots cast:  California, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Washington, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland and Colorado.
Here are the 5 states Romney won (for a total of 90 electoral votes):  Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Missouri and Indiana.

Fortunately, for Mr. President, He has Air Force One

President Obama thought he had trouble when tangling with Congressional leaders in Washington. Before starting his family vacation last week, he made a remark on his Midwest "get back to work" tour that has travel agents up in arms.

Travel Leaders Group fired back quickly:

During a town hall meeting in Atkinson, Illinois, President Obama remarked that “One of the challenges in terms of rebuilding our economy is – businesses have gotten so efficient, that, when was the last time somebody went to a bank teller instead of using an ATM? Or used a travel agent instead of going online? A lot of jobs that used to require people now have become automated.”

“Not so fast, Mr. President,” chided Travel Leaders CEO Barry Liben. “While many components of travel may have become commoditized, there’s no commoditizing the human touch. Our more than 30,000 travel agent experts are proud taxpaying professionals who offer what the Internet can never replicate: providing the human touch to the traveling public through exceptional hands-on care, all while saving them time and, yes, money. It’s no wonder our business is growing and thriving.”

Liben in turn rhetorically asked the President, “When was the last time somebody went to their online site instead of going to a travel agent when they were stranded in an airport because of terrible weather or worse? Mr. President, we’re thankful you don’t have to worry about such issues, but please understand that millions of savvy Americans prefer working with travel agents because they know they can rely on their assistance from the moment they first book their travel to the time they return home safely,” Liben explained.

“Add to that the knowledge and expertise travel agents provide through their counsel, coupled with the automation at travel agents’ fingertips — including websites of their own — and you have one of the most efficient and reliable means of accessing the best experience on earth."

See You in San Juan

I’ve been to Puerto Rico. In fact, there is a humorous story years ago about flying into San Juan, engine problems and five guys with buckets waiting by the runway in case of more trouble. But I won’t bore you with more details.

President Obama is going to make the same trip (well, not exactly, but you get the picture) next week. Although many of the four million Caribbean island residents are excited, it’s the 4.6 million Puerto Ricans (including 850,000 in Florida) living in the U.S. who are being targeted with this trip, presidential critics say.

John F. Kennedy was the last U.S. president to visit Puerto Rico — 50 years ago. The island has been a U.S. territory for 112 years. Don’t expect any major change in that status.

CQ Daily put it this way:

Some will want Obama to endorse statehood for the territory; others will press him to embrace independence for the island; yet another group will urge him to leave things just the way they are — which is what’s sure to happen, because the population is so triple-split on its desires.

But hey, I’m sure the President will have a better flight experience than the Schumans did. 

One Less Line on That Tax Form

That pesky little box at the bottom of the tax return that asks if you want to contribute to public financing of presidential elections? It’s apparently going to go away.

No candidate has taken matching funds for primary elections since 2000. The reason given: Spending limits are too restrictive. President Obama skipped the general election funds in 2008 — and that is expected to become the norm.

You and I (I speak generally, of course) have not been big supporters of the idea that came into play after Watergate. In the early 1980s, 29% of tax filers agreed to a $1 contribution; in 2010, just over 7% of us chose to kick in the $3 requested.

Regulatory Relief or Justification?

A serious effort to reach out to job-creating businesses and stimulate economic growth or a political move now that the road to change in Congress is much less friendly? Reactions to President Obama’s call for reviewing federal health and safety regulations that might be too burdensome on business vary from those two camps to a few areas in between.

Two different perspectives, first from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has its doubts; second a CNBC analysis, which indicates the results might be surprising. As always, we’re interested in your take.

This executive order is hardly a war on red tape, and no affected businesses or consumers are going to be able to sue anybody to force compliance — it’s just an “order” to agencies to behave, says CEI’s Wayne Crews. 

Actually confronting regulation, the crippling extent of which remains unappreciated by both parties, requires going far beyond the words of an executive order. Some options include:

  • Implement a bi-partisan “Regulatory Reduction Commission” to vote up or down annually on a package of rules to eliminate.
  • Institute a moratorium or freeze on regulatory rulemaking now.
  • Hold hearings on Sen. Mark Warner’s (D-VA) “one-in, one-out” requirement for any new rule.
  • Rediscover federalism, that is, circumscribe the federal regulatory role regarding health and safety matters best left to states.
  • Enlarge regulatory flexibility and exemptions for small business.
  • Establish an annual Presidential address or statement on the state of regulation and its impact on productivity and GDP.
  • Sunset regulations after fixed period unless explicit reauthorization is made.
  • Implement a supermajority requirement for extraordinarily costly mandates.

As for, Senior Editor John Carney writes:

NBC news reports that the efforts will be run out of Cass Sunstein’s office inside the Office of Management and Budget. That’s hardly surprising. The entire op-ed reads as if Sunstein had a large role in authoring it. He’s long been an advocate of cost-benefit analysis of government regulation.

It’s important to note that in Sunstein’s interpretation, cost-benefit analysis does not have the implicitly libertarian outcomes that the leftist critics and some free market types expect. Indeed, it could be that both the critics and friends of this new executive order will be surprised.

Sunstein’s cost-benefit analysis, for instance, could well be used to support greater regulation of hedge funds or a stronger version of the Volcker Rule by pointing to the relatively modest costs involved and the potential costs of possible systemic risks. In advance of actually doing the cost-benefit analysis, we cannot know if any particular regulation will pass muster.

I suspect that in actual operation, we’ll discover that Sunstein-ian cost-benefit analysis is modestly pro-regulation. Especially when regulators are allowed to include vague things such as how a regulation impacts on equity, this kind of “watch the consequences” analysis is pretty open-ended and far more subjective than it might seem. 

Key 2008 Voters Moving to Sidelines?

Young voters, critical to the outcome of the 2008 presidential vote, may be sitting it out for the most part this time around. So says the latest poll from the Harvard Institute of Politics.

The reason: They voted for change and they haven’t seen the results.

Just 27 percent of Millennials — 18-to-29-year-old voters — say they will definitely vote this year. That’s down from 36 percent who said a year ago that they were likely to vote in this year’s elections. And it’s way down from the 51 percent of Millennials who voted in 2008.

John Della Volpe, the institute’s polling director, blamed the enthusiasm drop on first-time voters’ sky-high expectations of the president and economic woes.

"The expectations among young people have not been met relative to what they were thinking was going to be quick change," he said. "This isn’t just college students, this is an entire generation, and in many states the unemployment rates for this generation are twice as high as the overall unemployment rate. They don’t see the efficacy of voting relative to 2008 and 2006." 

Post-election Cooperation? We Can Hope, Can’t We?

With all the negativity — political ads, public confidence in lawmakers, add your own thought here — in the air, how about some positive comments. The remarks are amazingly similar, especially coming from two people on directly opposite sides of the political aisle.

The parties are President Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Below is what they had to say in separate interviews this week. Were they simply touting what they thought the public wanted to hear (who knows) or can we at least take away a little hope that there is a realization that business as usual in Washington won’t cut it?

Decide for yourself:

  • When the president was asked how he would respond if Congress extended the Bush tax cuts — something the president opposes for higher-income earners — he offered a broader answer.

"I think it’s premature to talk about vetoes because maybe I’m a congenital optimist, but I feel as if, post-election, regardless of how it plays out, the most important message that will be sent by the American people is, we want people in Washington to act like grown-ups, cooperate, and start trying to solve problems instead of scoring political points," Obama said.

"And it is going to be important for Democrats to have a proper and appropriate sense of humility about what we can accomplish in the absence of Republican cooperation. I think it’s going to be important for Republicans to recognize that the American people aren’t simply looking for them to stand on the sidelines, they’re going to have to roll up their sleeves and get to work."

  • Anticipating a gain of Republican seats in the Senate, McConnell said: "One of the things we will have to remind newcomers and those who have supported them is that even though we will have a larger Republican Conference, we do not control the government and cannot control the government when the president holds the veto pen." He went on to say: "We need to have a humble, grateful response about this election." He even added: "Incidentally, there is no polling data that suggests [the voters] love us."

Racial Divide Remains Wide

Whether you agree or disagree with his presidential politics, one could at least hope that the presence of Barack Obama in the White House would help improve race relations. Apparently not, according to a new survey from the Mobilization, Change, and Political Civic Engagement Project at the University of Chicago.

About 69 percent of black respondents said that racism continues to be a major problem. That compares with 29 percent of whites, 32 percent of Asians, and 51 percent of Latinos who agreed with the statement. Across race, young people were less likely to say that racism is a major problem, according to the poll. The greatest disparity is among African-Americans, with 74 percent of older black respondents saying that racism is a major problem, compared with 60 percent of 18-to-35-year-olds. The find likely reflects older minorities’ experience of legal segregation.

The poll echoes years of surveys that have shown minorities less optimistic about race relations and more likely to describe racism as a continuing factor in American life. What’s striking is that President Obama’s victory appears to have made no difference in blacks’ attitudes.

"How is it that heading toward midterm elections in November, large percentages of black people ages 16 to 25 continue to feel alienated from mainstream American society and are contemplating not whom to vote for but whether to bother voting at all?" said Cathy Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Chicago who led the research.

Other key findings, a gap between whites and blacks exists between the two races on the question of whether African-Americans have achieved racial equality. Fifty percent of whites say that blacks have achieved racial equality, but just 12 percent of blacks do.