Archive for February, 2009

The House GOP has posted something comparing President Obama’s previous statements with his speech last night. President Obama isn’t the first president who’s made statements that conflict with each other. In normal times, the opposition party points these out, then gets back to business.

These aren’t ordinary times, though. The impact that has on President Obama is that it doesn’t give him much wiggle room. Markets and families want consistent signals. Inconsistent signals cast additional doubt into a doubt-laden environment.

Here’s what President Obama said in last night’s speech:

President Barack Obama: “Not because I believe in bigger government – I don’t.” (Statement Before a Joint Session of Congress, 2/24/2009)

Here’s a list of his contradictory statements:

President Barack Obama: “… this plan will require significant resources from the federal government – and yes, probably more than we’ve already set aside. But while the cost of action will be great, I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater…” (Statement Before a Joint Session of Congress, 2/24/2009)

President Barack Obama: “I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves; that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity.” (Statement Before a Joint Session of Congress, 2/24/2009)

President Barack Obama: “In each case, government didn’t supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise. It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.” (Statement Before a Joint Session of Congress, 2/24/2009)

If there’s one thing I can’t stand about President Obama’s speeches, it’s that he sets up strawman arguments. For instance, when he says that he rejects “the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves; that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity”, he’s insinuating that someone is making that argument.

That’s total fiction. It’s an unpersuasive argument that seeks to cast Republicans in a bad light. It’s an intentional mischaracterization on President Obama’s behalf.

It’s worth noting that the markets are rejecting President Obama’s plan because they know that his plan will force tax increases. Some of these tax increases will be passed legislatively. Others, however, will be silent tax increases that will be in the form of high inflation.

SIDENOTE: The only way inflation doesn’t ignite is if the economy doesn’t experience a recovery.

President Obama is great at sending conflicting signals. Thus far, the stock markets have shown their appreciation for President Obama’s conflicting signals by dropping almost 2,500 since he was elected.

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Cross-posted at California Conservative

Until this morning, Republican governors were the only people who hinted that they’d reject a portion of the money directed to the states from the Generational Theft Act. That’s now history because Gov. Phil Bredesen, (D-TN), might reject part of the money in the stimulus package:

At the National Governors Association meetings in Washington, D.C., Gov. Phil Bredesen said this week that he might turn down relief for unemployed workers worth an estimated $143 million because of conditions placed on the money by Congress.

The stimulus package would also raise unemployment benefits by $25 a week for all workers, but in addition, lawmakers want states to expand the pool of people who can apply for benefits. That would put more pressure on an unemployment trust fund that is already trying to stave off insolvency.

“We are evaluating this piece of money, whether it makes sense for us to take it,” Bredesen said in an interview Monday with the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “We’re in the position of going back to our legislature this year for changes in our tax structure just to keep our fund whole, and taking it to a new level may be too much of a lift for the legislature this spring.”

Prior to this, Gov. Jindal, Gov. Barbour, Gov. Sanford and Gov. Palin were the only governors who had rejected a portion of the money being sent to the states or who were thinking about rejecting a portion of the stimulus money.

That had gotten House Majority Whip James Clyburn and Sen. Chuck Schumer upset. Rep. Clyburn even said that rejecting part of the money was the equivalent of being a racist. (I wonder if he’s willing to call Gov. Bredesen a racist, too. It’s just a hunch but I’m betting that that won’t happen.)

One thing that hasn’t been talked about is that the Theft Act’s unemployment provision is another attempt by Speaker Pelosi and President Obama to tell these governors how to run their states. Once this one-time money runs out, this turns into an unfunded mandate.

Unfunded mandates are nothing more than the federal government telling a state government that they know better how to govern their state government. That’s insulting considering the irersponsible idiots (Sen. Reid and Speaker Pelosi) running things in DC.

It’s time that these outstanding governors told President Obama that they won’t accept hsi habit of signing off on unfunded mandates because they reject him telling them how to govern.

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Cross-posted at California Conservative

Here’s Rep. Patrick McHenry’s response:

I am encouraged by what I heard tonight from the President. He rightly criticized “short-term gains” at the expense of “long-term prosperity.” This was my primary concern with the stimulus bill produced by Congressional Democrats, too much expensive pork and not enough real stimulus.

I stand ready to work with President Obama to “make the hard choices to bring down the debt,” as he put it. The President told inspiring stories of ordinary Americans who are making hard choices. We should follow their lead together, and if we do, we can win fiscal responsibility for taxpayers and build a stronger economy.

The President can start by vetoing the Democrat majority’s large increase in discretionary government spending, the biggest since the Carter Administration. It didn’t help matters then, so why should we expect any different now?

The way to build “a new foundation of lasting prosperity” is not to continue spending lavishly on things that do not help Americans weather the storm or stimulate economic growth. Taxpayers simply cannot afford it. A $2 trillion debt is not a means to lasting economic prosperity.”

Here’s Rep. Kay Granger’s reaction to President Obama’s speech:

I deeply appreciate the President’s address to Congress this evening. There is no mistaking the serious challenges facing our country, both on the domestic front and internationally as we continue to tackle a troubled economy and a continual threat of terrorism.

All along, I, and my House Republican colleagues, have expressed our desire to work with the President. Reducing the deficit and controlling spending are areas we are firmly committed to working on with the President. However, we cannot ignore the impact that raising taxes and significant cuts to our Armed Forces will have on both our economy and national security.

Roughly 64 percent of those who are scheduled for a tax increase are small businesses. Job creation and growth will be severely stressed if we continue to ask our small business owners to bear an even greater burden to pay more in taxes during this tough economic time.

I remain confident and look forward to working with the President to get our economy back on track.”

Here’s Rep. John Sullivan’s reaction to President Obama’s speech:

President Obama has pledged to cut the federal deficit in half during his first term, a tall order considering he doubled the deficit in one day by signing the largest spending bill in our nation’s history into law, only to follow that up with an Omnibus spending bill this week that increases spending by almost $32 billion over last year. Government is growing, agencies are expanding and new government programs are a dime a dozen as the Democrats focus on spending in the 111th Congress.”

There must be a mechanism to take wasteful spending off of the table. I recently introduced legislation which can put his ambitious call into action. H.R. 1023, the Federal Agency Program Realignment and Closure Act, creates a bipartisan commission designed to combat runaway federal spending, by reforming government agencies and programs and it will put Washington on notice that the days of an unaccountable and wasteful federal government must come to an end, and ultimately save taxpayers untold billions of dollars.”

The 111th Congress will also present a chance for President Obama’s administration to put its own stamp on a comprehensive energy policy America so badly needs. However, some of the policies being suggested by his administration and the Democrat controlled Congress could have a chilling effect on the price we pay to heat our homes and fuel our cars in tough economic times, placing jobs and American made energy resources at risk. Washington must always remember that business keeps our economy going, not government; we cannot allow unreasonable and excessive government regulations on our businesses during troubled economic times. As the only Oklahoman on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, I stand ready to ensure that Oklahoma has a seat at the table and will fight to ensure that our state remains a leader in the energy sector.”

President Obama is right in that our nation is dangerously reliant on foreign oil, which is why I support an “all of the above” solution to our energy needs. I believe it is imperative for our country to expand refining capacity and increase onshore and offshore production of our domestic sources of oil and gas, clean coal, and safe nuclear power sources so that we can regain control of our own energy needs and lower the cost for consumers, while incorporating renewable sources such as non-food source biofuels, and wind and solar power into our existing energy portfolio.”

We are a strong nation, filled with resolve and we will overcome whatever adversity comes our way, that is what America does best. Now is the time to put partisanship aside and to put the federal government back to work for the people. My Republican colleagues and I stand ready to work with President Obama to achieve this common goal.”

A good way to summarize President Obama’s speech is to say that he’s staked out a position of fiscal responsibility after he’s signed the massive Generational Theft Act into law, after proposing hundreds of billions of dollars in bailouts and after he’s proposed bailing out homeowners who made bad decisions or who overbought and overborrowed.

President Obama’s staking out a position of fiscal restraint after that spending splurge is akin to a bank installing cameras after the bank’s been robbed 3-4 times. It’s a ‘better-late-than-never’ gesture. It’s just that he should’ve staked out the fiscal restraint position from his inauguration, then held fast to it.

Rep. McHenry was right in expressing his displeasure with the excessive wasteful spending in the Generational Theft Act. That bill is filled with payoffs for the Democrats’ political allies. The Democrats wisely deny that it’s a pork-based bill, though it doesn’t withstand close scrutiny.

SIDENOTE: Rep. Joe Sestak told Sean Hannity last night that there isn’t any wasteful spending in the bill. Rep. Sestak denied that money was appropriated for building a high-speed rail between Disneyland and Vegas. He denied that money would be spent on saving the marsh mouse in Speaker Pelosi’s district. I’d love to know how he’d explain the line item in the bill simply marked SCIENCE.

Something that’s bothering families and markets alike is the Obama administration’s ignoring tapping existing conventional energy supplies. Families and markets understand that gas prices will jump again the minute the economy recovers. Families and markets understand that big increases in gas prices are justifiably characterized as hidden tax increases to families. They know that saps families’ and businesses’ buying power.

All of President Obama’s happy talk about alternative energy solutions and fiscal restraint isn’t playing well with the markets:

Stocks added to losses on Wednesday after data showed the pace of existing home sales unexpectedly fell in January, while bank shares slid on continuing worries over the fate of the sector.

The tone was set early by disappointment President Barack Obama shed little new light about how his administration would stabilize the economy in a major speech before Congress.

Financial experts aren’t buying what President Obama is selling. It’s that simple. They’re betting that his calls for fiscal responsibility are empty gestures. They’re betting that his reliance on green cars won’t help us get through the energy crisis that they think is lurking just a few months away. They’re also betting that the bailout a week M.O. of this administration won’t significantly improve the economy.

The lesson that President Obama must learn quickly is that one-time tax rebates won’t inspire confidence and that the fastest way to inspire confidence is to get out of the private sector’s way.

President Obama’s speech last night didn’t suggest that he’d learned any of those lessons. That’s why the stock market’s reaction is the most important reaction to President Obama’s speech last night.

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Cross-posted at California Conservative

The Lady Logician is celebrating a birthday today. Be sure to stop past her blog & wish her a happy birthday. Or send her something via Twitter or Facebook.

House Republicans are establishing themselves as the party of smart action on the budget deficit. Tuesday provided another opportunity for the GOP to show they’re serious about eliminating the deficit in ways that won’t undercut important programs. Here’s the details of the latest reform submitted:

Rep. Torrey Westrom and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen have authored legislation to transfer some state prisoners to a private facility, saving Minnesota taxpayers millions of dollars while providing additional space needed to house sex offenders.

The bills would transfer inmates from the state-owned, medium-security Moose Lake prison to Minnesota’s lone privately run facility, Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton. A Department of Corrections budget document for the 2008 fiscal year shows savings could be millions of dollars annually due to Appleton’s lower per diem rates.

Moose Lake reported to have 776 inmates as of Jan. 27. Minnesota already has a contract in place with Appleton, which has housed between 300-1,200 state prisoners over the last several years. Westrom’s bill would simply put Appleton to greater use.

“Government spending has grown by about 140 percent since 1992 and this is one way we can change that trend. We need to be creative as we work to put our state back on sound economic ground and this is just one area where we’ve identified millions in savings,” said House author Westrom, R-Elbow Lake.

There also is the $90 million to be saved by forgoing bonding appropriations for expanding the Moose Lake prison in order to accommodate Phase 2 of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. Increased housing is needed to alleviate capacity pressure caused by heightened prosecution of sex offenders. However, the Department of Health is already leasing space from the Moose Lake prison and Westrom said it would make sense to free up existing beds in Moose Lake to satisfy the additional space DHS is calling for in the near future. This could mitigate any layoffs from closing the medium-security prison.

There’s no way that this bill gets passed without Gov. Pawlenty applying a bunch of media pressure on Speaker Kelliher and Sen. Pogemiller. In fact, it’s an uphill fight even then because the DFL doesn’t want to do anything that offends their union allies.

It’s important that people know this:

The DOC report shows the Moose Lake price tag to be about $122 per prisoner, per day when health care and building costs are included. That makes Moose Lake one of the highest per diem rates among Minnesota prisons, according to DOC figures. By comparison, the DOC report indicates Appleton’s rates are more than $21 cheaper each day excluding the building costs and $40-45 a day cheaper when you add in all the line items.

This is why the unions will fight this legislation:

“Increasing our use of private prisons also could bring a healthy element of competition to the state-run facilities to operate more efficiently and extend the savings even further,” said Senate author Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria. “I don’t think the state will ever completely get out of the prison business, but a shared system of both privately and publicly managed prisons would help our bottom line.”

The last thing public employee unions want is a comparison in productivity and cost efficiency between them and privately run businesses providing the same services.

Here’s a list of some of the other reforms the House GOP has proposed:

  • Republicans proposed welfare reforms to save taxpayers’ money and reduce fraud
  • Republicans proposed the “Emergency Jobs Stimulus Bill” to give tax incentives for businesses that create jobs in Minnesota.
  • Republicans proposed pay freezes for all public employees, estimated to save $1 billion
  • Republicans proposed limiting state government spending to only available revenues: www.mnspendingfreeze.com
  • Republicans proposed a 5 percent legislator pay cut
  • Republicans proposed scholarships for students who graduate high school early, with a potential savings of $25 million or more to taxpayers
  • Republicans proposed a plan to freeze the pay of all government employees at current levels
  • Republicans proposed several cuts to their own budget to lead by example as a start for balancing the budget deficit, including:
    Reducing members’ allotment of stationary and stamps;
  • Reducing the reimbursement for Internet and communications services;
  • Repealing the Democrats’ 2007 per diem increase; and
  • Merging the House and Senate bonding committees.

Here’s the part that disgusts me most:

Democrats blocked all of these budget-saving proposals.

This isn’t just proof that the DFL isn’t providing leadership. It’s far worse. It’s proof that the DFL majority is playing the role of obstructionists. Let’s tie this together with what’s been euphemistically titled listening tour. Just Tuesday afternoon, I posted something that quoted Ann Lenczeweski as saying that those who spoke are “helping us find out what their values are, what’s most important to them.”

This is proof that this tour wasn’t about finding out what’s important to Minnesotans. If the DFL was interested in doing what’s best for Minnesotans, the DFL wouldn’t have voted down such an impressive list of the House GOP’s cost-saving proposals.

That’s inexcusable anytime but it’s especially galling considering we’re facing the biggest deficit in Minnesota history. The biggest outrage, though, is that, in 2007, the DFL ignored the GOP’s warnings that the economy was slowing down and that they shouldn’t spend the entire surplus.

When the DFL ignored that warning, they chose to not increase the various reserves built into the budget. That would’ve left Minnesota in much better shape going into this budget session. Instead, the DFL paid off their political allies.

One final thing that Minnesotans should be disgusted with is the fact that one of the first things that the DFL did when they gained control of the legislature was passing major per diem increases from an already generous level. Prior to the 2007 session, the House and Senate got $55/day. Almost immediately, the Senate jacked their per diem to $96/day. The House took a relatively modest increase to ‘only’ $77/day. How thoughtful of them.

The DFL actually needs a listening tour. They need one where they listen to the people that don’t rely on government funding for their jobs. They need to listen to small business owners. They need to listen to the average taxpayer. The entrepreneurs I’ve talked with say that Minnesota is downright hostile to them. Many of the blue collar types are sick of paying for the most generous safety net provisions in the Midwest.

It’s time that the DFL stopped with their obstructionist ways. It’s time that the DFL actually showed a willingness to offer their own solutions to the deficit. It’s definitely time that the DFL stopped being satisfied with status quo policies.

If the DFL doesn’t start proposing real reforms that save the taxpayers’ money, the GOP will be glad to put together a long list of cost-saving reforms that they tried passing. The GOP will happily tell Minnesotans that the DFL rejected these cost-saving reforms because (a) they wanted to stay loyal to their political allies and (b) the DFL was too interested in playing partisan games.

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Politico.com has posted excerpts of President Obama’s speech. Based on the selected excerpts, President Obama’s speech deserves a C- at best. Here’s the excerpt that’s worthy of the lowest grade:

We have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely, to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down. That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about tonight.

The first, totally obvious question is where will President Obama get the cash that he’ll need to accomplish these things. We’re already facing deficits in excess of $1,000,000,000,000 for both FY 2009 and FY 2010.

The next question I’d ask President Obama is what “regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit.” I’d especially like that answered since one of Sen. Obama’s first actions in the Senate was to join Christopher Dodd in threatening to filibuster a bill meant to reform Fannie and Freddie. Specificially, is President Obama now criticizing the actions of Sen. Obama and Sen. Dodd for preventing the proper regulation of those mortgage brokers?

It’s gratuitous, possibly even pretentious, for President Obama to say that “people bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway” after announcing a $75,000,000,000 bailiout of the people who “bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford.” It’s gratuitous for him to talk about banks who pushed bad loans after his treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, announced the incomplete plans for TARP II.

If President Obama wants to be taken seriously, he can’t criticize behavior that he’s subsidizing with one of his mega-billion dollar bailout packages.

Taxpayers should get infuriated reading this paragraph:

Yesterday, I held a fiscal summit where I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office. My administration has also begun to go line by line through the federal budget in order to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs. As you can imagine, this is a process that will take some time. But we’re starting with the biggest lines. We have already identified two trillion dollars in savings over the next decade.

After signing legislation that wastes hundreds of billions of dollars that are little more than payoffs for his and the Democratic Party’s political allies, President Obama shouldn’t be taken seriously on fiscal restraint. Considering the trillions of dollars that Congress will spend or has spent on bailouts, all of which have caused financial institutions to panic, President Obama’s priorities haven’t been in order thus far.

While I admit that there’s time to straighten those priorities out, it’s difficult to see how the things that he’s set in motion won’t cause economic distress for the next 12 to 18 months.

President Bush wasn’t the picture of fiscal restraint. Thus far, though, President Bush looks like a Tom Coburn or Jim DeMint fiscal hawk by comparison to President Obama.

I’m sure that President Obama’s speech will be well-delivered and that he’ll get high marks on presentation. Unfortunately, we’ve reached a crossroads, one where we need competence and credibility, not polished presentations.

Based on the strawman arguments that are becoming tradition in his speeches and the fact that President Obama’s talk of fiscal restraint is fiction, I’d give this speech a D.

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Cross-posted at California Conservative

I wrote here that city governments spent time at the recent state hearings complaining about government mandates. In this Pi-Press article, Speaker Kelliher says that a central theme from the hearings is one of equity:

Nonetheless, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said after the meeting that a common theme that emerged from that hearing and 14 others in Greater Minnesota on Thursday and Friday was a “strong concern about equity.” Citizens who attended the meetings seemed to understand that state leaders have to make cuts, Kelliher said. They just want those cuts to be made fairly.

In addition, she said, many doctors and small-business owners who oppose tax increases also asked legislators to preserve the state’s safety net for its neediest citizens. “The meetings have been civil, and people are intent on listening to each other,” she said.

Here’s what Pi-Press reporter Bill Salisbury observed:

Most came to criticize Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposed cuts in health and human services programs. Personal care assistants, occupational and physical therapists, doctors, hospital administrators and group home operators all warned that the recession is increasing the need for their services, making this the wrong time for cuts.

That doesn’t sound like a call for equity. That sounds like what Rep. Pelowski called for in this email:

We would ask you to focus your comments on the impact of the Governor’s budget including what is the harm to your area of government or program. Please be as precise as possible using facts such as number of lay offs, increases in property taxes, cuts in services, increases in tuition, elimination of programs. To be respectful of the time necessary to hear from a large number of constituents it would be advised to use no more than 3-5 minutes to convey your message. If you choose to provide handouts or printed materials, please plan to bring approximately 25 copies, enough for committee members and media.

Speaker Kelliher is in a difficult position PR-wise. She can’t sound too complimentary on Gov. Pawlenty’s plan. She can’t tell people that the DFL really wants to continue in status quo operation mode of appeasing their political allies. She can’t tell people that the DFL will start passing job-killing tax increases by mid-March, with an outside shot of those tax increases being announced in late March.

Small-business owner Ted Harrison of Woodbury said he paid more in taxes than he received in profits last year, and “would have loved to use some of that tax money to hire more employees.” He asked the legislators not to “balance the budget on the back of small businesses.”

Two weeks ago, I attended a townhall meeting held by Rep. Steve Gottwalt. Rep. Gottwalt invited the chairman of St. Cloud State’s economic department, King Banaian, to give an update on what he saw happening economically in the Greater St. Cloud area. A part of King’s presentation was that raising the marginal tax rate on those in the highest tax bracket by 1 point would increase revenues this year by $300,000,000.

Rep. Gottwalt acknowledged that that’s a significant amount but that it’s tiny compared with what’s needed to balance the budget.

That’s if you assume that businesses would behave the same way if their taxes got raised, which isn’t a smart assumption.

Speaker Kelliher’s PR problem got bigger after Rep. Ann Lenczewski said this:

Legislators didn’t expect citizens to offer a lot of specific ideas on where to raise revenue or cut spending in a complicated $32 billion budget. But those who spoke are “helping us find out what their values are, what’s most important to them,” House Tax Committee Chair Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, said before the meeting. “That’s helping us prioritize.”

DFL legislators asked activists and people who rely on government to supply the cash that’s used to run their little organizations to flood the speaking roster. DFL legislators meet with these people on a regular basis. That leads me to this two-part question:

How does hearing people testify, people that DFL legislators talk to frequently, help DFL legislators guage public sentiment or establish their priorities? The DFL’s professional advocates and local activists have the right to petition their government. It’s just that their views won’t give DFL legislators a balanced view of John and Jane Q. Public’s priorities.

After the hearings have been finished, the only honest assessment of the hearings is that the DFL’s army of professional activists gave public re-inforcement for the DFL’s pre-ordained agenda.

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The DFL’s leadership in the Minnesota House and Senate have failed to produce any meaningful reforms that would protect the taxpayers’ wallets from an ever-growing government. It’s time that we demanded an explanation for the DFL’s inaction. That’s why I’m drafting a letter to Speaker Kelliher and Senate Majority Leader Pogemiller. If anyone is interested in signing onto the letter, leave a comment to this post. Here’s the text of my letter:

Speaker Kelliher and Senator Pogemiller,

We’ve known since last April that Minnesota would be facing a major budget deficit for the 2010-2011 biennium. We knew that because you voted to pass legislation that eliminated a $900,000,000 budget deficit for the current biennium. When the November forecast was announced, Gov. Pawlenty used his unallotment powers to eliminate another deficit for this biennium. This time, the deficit for this biennium was over $420,000,000.

Recently, it’s come to the public’s attention that DFL members of the legislature were paid a substantial amount of per diem for out-of-session hearings and meetings.

On the Senate side, the top 16 DFL legislators were paid a grand total of $99,648 for out-of-session hearings and meetings. With senators getting paid $96 per day in per diem, that’s a total of 1,038 days of out-of-session per diem paid.

On the House side, the 14 biggest amounts of out-of-session per diem were paid to DFL representatives. The total amount of out-of-session per diem paid to these representatives is $65,142. Dividing the $65,142 by the $77 per day per diem payment gives you a total of 846 days of out-of-session hearings and meetings.

There are several reasons why I’m highlighting these per diem payments, the most important of which is to ask these questions:

  • What work product did these DFL legislators produce during these hearings and meetings?
  • Did the DFL give a high priority to gathering important budgetary information during these meetings?
  • Did the DFL give a high priority to finding solutions to the budget deficit the highest priority of these hearings? If the DFL didn’t put a high priority on that, why didn’t they?
  • Did the DFL give a high priority to identifying spending that was spent on wants, not needs? If the DFL didn’t put a high priority on that, why didn’t they?
  • Did the DFL put a high priority on finding ways to save money without reducing service levels? If the DFL didn’t put a high priority on that, why didn’t they?
  • How many hours did these legislators work, on average, each of these 1,884 work days? Less than 4 hours on average? Was it 4-8 hours? Was it more than 8 hours a day?

The reason why your answers to these questions are so important to me is to know that the legislature is doing its fair share of work in finding solutions to Minnesota’s budget deficit. If you aren’t part of the solution, then you’re really just putting up an unneeded, and unwanted, roadblock in the solution process.

If you aren’t part of the solution, then you all but mathematically insignificant to the process. With Minnesota facing a possible $7,000,000,000 deficit for the 2010-2011 biennium, Minnesota’s taxpayers can’t afford to have legislators be innocent bystanders. Minnesota’s taxpayers need DFL legislators to be part of the solution process.

There’s another set of questions that demand answers. These questions ask the DFL leaderhisp if they’ve voted against GOP-submitted solutions. (As you know, that’s a rhetorical question.)

Why did the House and Senate vote against reducing the stamp allowance for each legislator from 5,500 stamps per legislator per year to 3,500 stamps per legislator per year? Had the Senate passed the measure, that would have saved Minnesota’s taxpayers $56,280 per year. Had the House passed that reduction, they would have saved saved Minnesota’s taxpayers $112,560 per year. Together, these measures would have saved Minnesota’s taxpayers a grand total of $168,840 per year or $337,680 for this biennium.

While saving $337,680 falls short of balancing the budget by itself, it’s still a significant step. It’s especially important considering the fact that there isn’t a single silver bullet solution to this deficit. Each time we find savings to these type of things, it reduces the need for painful cuts to important services.

Shouldn’t DFL legislators put a high priority on finding budget savings of this size? Wouldn’t that make the difficult decisions less painful?

Another question I have is whether the DFL majority will join Republicans in cutting their own pay and the pay of Minnesota’s constitutional officers. Senator Pogemiller said he was disappointed that Gov. Pawlenty didn’t speak enough about shared sacrifices during his State of the State Address. Isn’t this the perfect opportunity for Senator Pogemiller to prove he’s serious about sharing in the sacrifices that all Minnesotans are making during these difficult economic times?

An excellent first step in proving that you’re willing to share in the sacrifices that all Minnesotans are making would be to return the per diem you were paid for this summer’s and this fall’s meetings. After all, we haven’t seen proof that anything constructive got accomplished during those meetings.

The Star Tribune’s Mark Brunswick reported that the DFL is “pinning much of their hope for short-term relief on a national stimulus package coming out of Washington.” I don’t doubt but that that’s true. My question is why the House would reject Rep. Drazkowski’s amendment to HF886. Rep. Drazkowski’s amendment would have prohibited “Minnesota from accepting federal funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act if acceptance creates an ongoing spending obligation to the state.”

Is it the DFL majority’s intention to increase Minnesota’s dependence on one time federal monies? Is it the DFL majority’s intention to continually increase the overall size of government?

If it isn’t the DFL majority’s intention to continually increase the overall size of government, what proof can you provide that shows you are serious about putting taxpayers and job creators first?

Hasn’t the DFL majority really provided abundant proof that their highest priority is to increasing taxes and the government’s burden on Minnesota’s taxpayers?

Senator Pogemiller and Speaker Kelliher, I look forward to your reply. When I receive it, I will immediately publish it without editing. Please send your response to me at gmg425 at charter dot net.

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NRSC Chairman Sen. John Cornyn issued this update to the other GOP senators explaining where the election contest is at:

Dear Colleagues,

I write to update you on Norm Coleman’s election contest in Minnesota. Over the recess, there were conflicting media accounts as to both what is happening in the contest and what these events mean for Norm’s case. This brief memorandum is meant to clarify any confusion, and to make clear that the bottom line has not changed: if the Minnesota Court fulfills its statutory obligation to certify the candidate with the highest number of legally cast ballots, we are confident that Norm Coleman will be declared the winner.

First, the number of unopened ballots that have never been counted in this race far exceeds the current 225 vote difference between Norm Coleman and Al Franken. Approximately 3,500 rejected absentee ballots remain before the three-judge Minnesota Contest Court.

Second, original/duplicate ballots that were double counted during the recount stage heavily favor Al Franken; it’s estimated by over 100 votes. Norm’s team has provided direct testimony by Minnesota elections officials that votes were counted twice, and the Minnesota Court has yet to remove the double counted ballots from the recount total.

Third, multiple extraneous ballot issues remain unresolved by the Minnesota Court. For example, election night vote totals were used in the recount where ballots favoring Franken were “lost” (there’s no evidence they ever existed), but election night totals were not when ballots favoring Franken were “found” after election night.

Finally, the Minnesota Court has now made clear that the number of illegal votes that are currently included in the vote count exceed the margin of Al Franken’s “lead” by hundreds if not thousands. It seems straight common sense that illegal votes cannot be included in a final certified vote total. Yet last week’s Friday the 13th ruling by the 3 judge creates exactly that possibility:

The Minnesota Contest Court ruled that 12 categories of ballots were “illegal” under Minnesota law. The problem is that the three judges themselves have previously allowed ballots they now call illegal to be counted. Additionally, this ruling makes thousands of ballots already included in the election night total illegal.

Specifically, the judges’ order contradicts their own ruling three days earlier on seven (Franken weighted) ballots that allowed those ballots to be included in the count. Further, this order renders illegal nearly 100 of the 933 (Franken weighted) ballots counted by the Minnesota Canvassing Board during the recount and contradicts a stipulation the Board signed on February 3 that all 933 ballots were legally and properly counted. The Court is refusing to address these blatant inconsistencies despite the fact that they are charged with certifying the number of “legally cast ballots” in this race, a charge that, by their own definition, they are no longer able to keep.

As a former Texas Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice, I find the legal quagmire created by the Friday the 13th ruling, and the Minnesota Court’s apparent refusal to address it, particularly troubling. Such widespread inconsistency not only creates state and federal constitutional problems, but saps voters’ faith and confidence in the integrity of our election process. In order for the voters of Minnesota, and the members of this body, to have confidence in this contest’s outcome the process in Minnesota must be uniform and it must be fair.

I know that you join me in my concern, and support Norm’s fight.

Something jumped out at me in this memo. Here’s what jumped off the page at me:

Finally, the Minnesota Court has now made clear that the number of illegal votes that are currently included in the vote count exceed the margin of Al Franken’s “lead” by hundreds if not thousands.

The February 13th ruling creates a predicament for the courts because they didn’t officially take their previous ruling off the books. That means that hundreds of votes that were counted for Franken because of one court ruling should now be removed by virtue of the latest court ruling.

Until now, I’ve resisted making a prediction because I thought things were too close to call. While I realize that Mr. Franken currently has the lead, it’s becoming apparent that that lead is the result of cherrypicking ballots from Franken-friendly precincts. Let’s review some important facts.

  • The votes from the Franken-friendliest precincts have been added in already.
  • The votes from the most pro-Coleman precincts haven’t been counted.
  • There are approximately 3,500 votes from these Coleman-friendly districts. That’s more than enough to overtake Franken.
  • Election officials have testified that some votes have been double counted.
  • These double-counted votes have been from Franken-friendly precincts.
  • If the three-judge panel finds this testimony credible, which I think they will, more ballots will be subtracted from Franken’s vote totals than from Sen. Coleman’s totals.

As a result of this information, I’m now willing to predict Sen. Coleman’s return to the Senate.

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Sunday’s St. Cloud Times included my Your Turn editorial. One of the great featurs on the Times’ website is Story Chat, which is the Times’ comment section. Since joining Story Chat, I’ve had an ongoing battle of wits with St. Cloud’s former mayor, John Ellenbecker.

Though I wrote about President Obama in my Your Turn editorial, the subject eventually changed to Minnesota politics in general and DFL politics specifically. Here’s John’s comment that got the battle started:

Gary, speaking of credibility, why do Republican Minnesota legislators simply talk about taking a pay cut, why don’t they actually do something, like give the money back? There is nothing that says GOP legislators can’t simply give a portion of their salary back, and decline the per diems. Why don’t they? If they donate the money back to the state, can’t they even take a deduction on their income taxes?

I know John pretty well, well enough to know that he likes picking fights with the most indefensible arguments imaginable. I’d put this comment in that category. Rather than taking a scattergun approach to the fight, I picked up a scalpel instead. Here’s how I replied:

Perhaps you didn’t know this but the House & Senate GOP held a press conference last week in which they announced a 5% pay cut for all constitutional officers, including Gov. Pawlenty.

Perhaps you noted that Sen. Pogemiller spoke after Gov. Pawlenty’s SoSA that he went there “to be inspired”, to hear Gov. Pawlenty “talk about shared sacrifices” just days after he voted with Tarryl Clark against cutting their stamp allowance, which would’ve saved Minnesota’s taxpayers $56K a year. Personally, I’d rather see things in writing limiting their wasteful spending.

My point to taking this approach was to sway the relatively few independents on the board to my side of the fight. That’s ALWAYS my goal. My goal on Story Chat is to never indulge in diatribes. It makes no difference if they’re out-of-control or under control diatribes, either, because the goal is to win people over. Unfortunately, I don’t always achieve that goal.

In fact, whether I’m commenting on Story Chat or posting on LFR, the goal is to make the most persuasive argument possible with the goal being to turn independents and people that think that they’re conservative Democrats into conservatives.

In this instance, I wanted to turn people against Pogie and Tarryl by highlighting the fact that their words don’t match with their actions. In this instance, the action was that they voted against saving taxpayers’ money while their words were preaching the gospel of shared sacrifices to the public.

One thing that I can count on John to do is to take arguments personally. John’s cheapshot at the beginning is the indicator that I’ve gotten under his skin:

That is precisely what I was addressing Gary, I am sorry my comment went over your head. You see, it doesn’t take legislation to cut a person’s salary, that person can simply return 5%, or whatever amount they determine appropriate, to the state. If Republican legislators are serious, why haven’t they begun returning 5% of their salaries, and declining their per diems? The Governor is also free to return 5% of his salary to the state. As I already noted, if they give that money back, they can even take a tax deduction on their income taxes, if they want to, they don’t have to. Well, when do the Rebublican legislators and the Governor begin to lead, when do they begin to return 5% of their salary to the state? Actions speak much louder than words.

Here’s my response:

I hate to disappoint you, John, but your comments haven’t gone over my head. I merely sidestepped your donation statements because I’d prefer that the pay cut was mandatory for ALL legislators.

My point was to refocus the argument onto the fact that the entire legislature and the constitutional officers should accept pay cuts to do their fair share to balance Minnesota’s budget.

When John asked why the GOP legislators weren’t serious about taking a pay cut, I responded like this:

If Sen. Pogemiller says that there should be shared sacrifices for private sector employees & their employers, shouldn’t public sector workers share in that sacrifice? Or should they be exempted from sharing in those sacrifices?

Again, I’m pointing the conversation back to something that voters will remember. I’m reminding people that Pogie and the DFL are great at the posturing game but worthless at the action game. The wording of my question is such that I’m forcing the liberal, in this instance John, to defend the indefensible. I mean, how many people would want to tell independents that they think the DFL shouldn’t share in the sacrifices that all other Minnesotans are facing? Before leaving the fight, I had to share this with the board:

John talks about Republicans getting serious but he hasn’t said anything about how the DFL has sat on their hands & criticized Tim Pawlenty. They’ve voted down dozens of cost-saving proposals that the GOP has offered. They’ve even voted against repealing the Green Acres tax increases that Ann Lenczewski rammed through last year that potentially cost farmers tens of thousands of dollars in propert tax increases.

That’s before we start talking about how DFL legislators, collected close to $200,000 worth of out-of-session, tax-free per diem but still can’t offer any suggestions regarding the budget.

John’s right that actions speak louder than words but the DFL’s inactions speak loudest. If they refuse to lead but cheerfully shoot down the GOP’s constructive proposals, then it’s time they got run out of the majority so we can get down to business.

The saying goes “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” It isn’t “Lead, follow or obstruct.”

Notice how I’ve stuck with my gameplan. I repeat the initial argument that the DFL tells the public that they’re fighting for the little guy and the working stiff but they’re doing nothing to keep spending under control, especially if it’s money spent on themselves.

By now, John’s fully invested in this fight. Unfortunately, he’s making the mistake of sticking with modified version of the ‘legislators can donate 5% of their salary argument that he’s been making. Here’s the modification:

They don’t need legislation; if they are truly serious about cutting their salaries. You can deflect the conversation to the DFL all you want, but if Republican legislators want to cut salaries, start by cutting their own, and they don’t need to do anything to do so; they can mail their checks back to the state tomorrow.

Here’s how I hammered that one:

Legislation is needed if you think that ALL LEGISLATORS should have their pay cut. That’s the position I’m taking…Secondly, how is submitting legislation doing nothing? Isn’t crafting & submitting legislation what legislators do?

Not able to resist adding insult to John’s injuries, I add this to the reply:

The biggest difference between DFL legislators & GOP legislators is that GOP legislators actually try solving problems. The DFL??? All they do is whine about Gov. Pawlenty’s budget, then shoot down serious proposals that would help solve the deficit. John, if that’s the DFL’s definition of action, they should get out of the way so we can solve this mess.

That’s one right between the eyes. Fortunately for me, John didn’t apply the first rule of digging. Instead, he responds this way:

Those who advocate the change can lead by example. There is nothing stopping a single Rebublican legislator or the Governor from taking a 5% reduction in salary. Are you really saying that they should only do so if the DFL does the same? Is that how shallow their convictions are?

Seeing blood in the waters is more than I can resist. I respond by asking this question:

John, are you suggesting that DFL legislators shouldn’t accept pay cuts when families & businesses have had their wages & profits cut or eliminated? Should the DFL tell the public that everyone needs to share in the sacrifices, then exempt themselves from sharing in those sacrifices? That’s the DFL’s right but it’s a morally & politically indefensible position.

John’s final shot was to say that “this sounds like a crisis.” Not letting him get the final word in, I respond this way:

I can picture the DFL categorizing this as a crisis because the DFL hasn’t had a solutions in ages. People that think things through, though, just propose effective solutions & move to the next issue needing solving.

In all these backs-and-forths, I always returned to highlight the DFL’s irresponsible actions and their lack of solutions to some big problems. That was my secondary goal the entire time. It’s what seperates conservatives from the DFL’s emotional replies.

While we were having this fight with a DFL activist, though, questions still dog Speaker Kelliher and Leader Pogemiller. Here’s s set of serious questions that the DFL leadership doesn’t want to answer:

  • What hearings did you hold last summer?
  • Why don’t you have a budget proposal on the table after accepting close to $200,000 worth of out-of-session, tax-free per diem?
  • What work product was produced during these hearings?
  • How many hours did ou work on those days that you collected out-of-session, tax-free per diem?

Rest assured, Pogie wants nothing to do with those questions. Neither does Speaker Kelliher.

That’s all the reason I need for constantly peppering them with these questions.

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