When the Republican Party claimed to be fiscal conservatives and constitutionalists; Roger (Stone) and me

You don’t need to think too far back to remember a time when the Republican Party touted the idea that they were the party of fiscal responsibility. They also said they were constitutionalists or originalists.

This is not to say that the Republicans were always pure about such subjects. They took great joy in quickly turning the Clinton budget surpluses into deficits with the Bush tax cuts of 2001.

The Trump Republican Party, however, makes the Bush budget deficits look like small potatoes. Donald never thought much of the Bushes anyway.

The corporate-oriented tax cut that the congressional Republicans and Donald Trump pushed through at the end of 2017 never got much past the starting gate in terms of public relations. Corporations were the main beneficiaries, and mostly they just used their savings to buy up and therefore drive up the value of their stocks. The middle class that politicians are supposed to love got token savings; some received no benefit at all – particularly in states (like New York) where residents have routinely benefited from deductions for state and local taxes.

The tax cuts supercharged the national economy for a few months, but that stimulus (remember how Republicans hated federally financed stimuli?) is already fading. Tax cuts are usually helpful for dealing with recessions, but that option is now foreclosed when the next recession eventually arrives.

Trump’s Chief-of-Staff/Budget Director/Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mick Mulvaney, opined recently that “nobody cares” about deficits anymore. Which seems like something that is appropriate to say for someone who is helping running a federal government that is looking at TRILLION dollar annual deficits for as far as you can possibly see into the future.

I know, many of the progressive Democrats in Congress, including several who are running for president, also seem to be cool with unbridled deficit spending.

This would seem to be a good time to mention Donald Trump, who said during the 2016 election that eliminating the federal deficit would be easy and that he would do so in eight years. For the record, the federal deficit has increased two trillion dollars since he took office. More recently Trump said he doesn’t worry about such things because he won’t be in office.

There is no free lunch. Massive federal deficits mean massive amounts of interest payments for all those borrowed funds. The cost is approaching one half trillion dollars per year – just for the interest. Less debt could mean fewer taxes or spending some of the savings on something more important than lining the pockets of the nation’s creditors.

Perhaps even more important in the long run than those pesky debts is the fact that Republicans have rushed headlong into throwing the Constitution into the trash bin.

Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution states that no money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law…” Trump’s effort to build his wall along the US/Mexico border includes the declaration of a national emergency to appropriate money without an action approved by Congress.

That’s a pretty serious part of the Constitution to violate. If enacted, the national emergency authorization to spend federal money would mean that the president could operate by fiat.

The law authorizing national emergencies provides that Congress can cancel a national emergency by majority vote of both houses of Congress, with the concurrence of the president. If, as Trump has done, the president vetoes the congressional rescinding of the declaration, a two-thirds vote of both houses is required to override the veto.

In recent congressional votes on the national emergency issue, just 13 (out of 197) Republican House members voted to rescind the action. Just 12 (out of 53) senators voted to rescind the emergency. So a veto override will not happen.

The overwhelming majority of Republican members of the 116th Congress (225 out of 250) voted to ignore the Constitution and to allow the president the right to appropriate funds without congressional approval. Who knows where such action might lead?

The issue will be litigated, and it is possible that the Supreme Court will ultimately rule in favor of following the Constitution. With five of the nine justices having been appointed by Republican presidents, even that decision is not a slam dunk.

So when you hear a Republican telling you they are fiscally conservative, or telling you they are constitutionalists, ask them where they stand on these consequential issues. The old “conservative” Republican Party, the party of Ronald Reagan, is gone. Conservative philosophy has been turned on its head.

And a final footnote: how incredible it is that not a single Republican officeholder or party leader rebuked Trump when he once again, this past weekend, attacked the record of the late Senator John McCain, a true American hero.

Roger and me

Last Sunday, within a span of four hours, I received two emails from political bad-boy Roger Stone. I have never met Roger Stone. Up until now there have not been any communications between us.

The first email, arriving at 7:31 AM, stated simply that Roger was “asking for help.” “I am proud of the fact that President Donald Trump … praised me for my “guts” recently when I said I would not under any circumstances bear false witness against him…
Due to the fake news media attacks on me over the last two years, … reports online that I am wealthy are entirely false.
I have no choice but to come right out and ask you for your help…
Whatever you can send… would be a Godsend. The use of these funds is strictly limited to my legal defense. None of this money is utilized for my personal use.

P.S. Again, please don’t be fooled by multiple online stories which claim falsely that I am so rich that I do not need your help. In fact, my life is in your hands.

The second email was more stark. The message was pretty much the same, but the headline was more concise: “I am on the verge of bankruptcy.”

I found these emails troubling. As we all have watched the swirling controversies during the past couple years concerning Trump allies’ connections with the Russians, and as these controversies have also gotten into various allegedly illegal financial schemes, the focal point of all these suggested crimes has been emails sent back and forth between and among the parties to the scheming. And now here I am, the recipient of emails from Roger Stone, a member of the Trumpkin indictee syndicate.

I therefore am publicly declaring that I will voluntarily, without being asked to do so by anyone, preserve all my email communications with the aforementioned Roger Stone. I am prepared to turn the emails over to the proper legal authorities if requested. This is my obligation as a United States citizen.

Will Sanders crowd out the other progressive senators? And a couple footnotes on the Erie County Executive race

Welcome to Sunshine Week. Politics and Other Stuff does its part by writing about public institutions that need some sunlight. Sometimes it’s necessary to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

I haven’t watched American Idol or Survivor in a long time, but it seems like we are living in the political version of those TV reality shows at the moment. The Democratic presidential sweepstakes has people coming in; dropping out; trying to decide what to do – it seems like nearly every day.

I’m sure it is just a coincidence, but why did all the “progressive” senator Democratic presidential candidates all seem to enter the 2020 race in a bunch? And now there may be the march of the moderates – some governors, plus former Vice President Joe Biden. Is Beto O’Rourke in this bunch too?

Candidates will sort themselves out in their own lanes. The process may already be underway with the progressive senators, among them Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand.

There was a Des Moines Register poll out this past weekend that surveyed the whole field in Iowa. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were essentially tied at 27 percent and 25 percent respectively. The rest of the candidates were way back.

Much too much attention is focused every four years on Iowa. Polls at this time are mostly name recognition events anyway, so there is no point in getting too interested in such a poll. There are, however, some factors that seem to indicate that Bernie Sanders really is leading the progressives’ lane.

He has raised substantially more small-donor money off his initial formal announcement than the others. He is drawing good crowds and apparently has been putting a good campaign team together, although three major players from the 2016 campaign recently dropped out. His platform from 2016 has become a model for the other candidates in the progressive lane.

When a popular car model becomes all the rage, other manufacturers rush to copy it. Then the maker of the original popular vehicle tries to up the ante with new shiny features.

And so it has been going with Bernie and the progressive senators not named Bernie. Lots of them are onboard for medicare-for-all; and free college tuition; and jobs for all, and on and on. The candidates and their teams seem to feel that they must out Bernie, Bernie.

Democrats have generally had a good time letting Donald Trump twist in the wind with his “We’ll build a wall and Mexico will pay for it” schtick. It is a pipedream that he cannot deliver on, but his base seems content that he keeps talking about it.

Bernie and his wannabees actually have a similar problem. Medicare-for-all sounds great but is totally unattainable financially or operationally. Medicare buy-ins (as Congressman Brian Higgins is sponsoring) are still a stretch in this political atmosphere, but in the long run are much more doable.

Colleges are extremely expensive, and anything that can be done to reduce that burden for students and their families is admirable. But a free-college-for-all program would direct limited resources in the wrong way. Some families can (God bless them) pay for their children’s education, and they shouldn’t get a free ride. Other worthy students need help beyond tuition for fees, books and transportation.

Jobs-for-all is vaguely reminiscent of a 1970’s federal government recession fighting program, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, or CETA. CETA provided millions of dollars to local governments to hire people that they could not otherwise afford to hire. Most of those jobs were not really needed and provided few services of value.

The crowded progressive senators’ lane is full of people trying to out-Bernie, Bernie. They are all, like Donald Trump, pushing for things that are of somewhat limited appeal and financially unattainable. But those senators evidently feel that the Democratic base really wants those things.

To the extent that the non-Bernie senators are trying to emulate him, they are limiting their own reason for being in the race. For a progressive voter, why choose another candidate when you can have the original? Some of that crowded candidate lane will be gone by summer, and others will disappear when the voting starts next winter. There is not enough space in the lane for more than one or two of the progressives when things start to get serious in the spring of 2020.

If in fact Bernie Sanders does emerge as the leader of the lane, he will have a tougher go of things than he did in 2016. With more talk about the major planks of the progressive agenda will come more intense media scrutiny of what is being proposed. And of course, Trump and company will be glad to join in on the scrum.

There is value in the Democratic Party and the country having some debates about issues concerning universal health care, controlling higher education costs, and full employment. But what polls have recently demonstrated is that what Democrats want, most of all, is to remove Donald Trump from the White House. In the end that may trump everything. Who’s considered the most electable may be the deciding factor.

The Erie County Executive race

I’ll have more to write about the Erie County Executive contest in the weeks and months to come, but here are couple news items on the race:

  • As I noted in a Twitter post on March 5th, political gadfly and Pigeonista Peter Reese is circulating petitions to run in a Democratic primary for County Executive against Mark Poloncarz. No word yet on who may be helping Reese financially, or if he is a stalking horse for some other candidate or party. In past elections he has been a heavy donor to Conservative Party endorsed candidates.  If he secures enough signatures to qualify, no doubt they will be challenged. Stay tuned.
  • Republican candidate for County Executive Lynne Dixon, in an interview program on WBBZ this past weekend, indicated that she will during her campaign raise the issue of management of Erie Community College. Other county elected officials as well as the college’s Board of Trustees seem perfectly happy with how things are going at ECC. A public discussion about how tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money are being used could be interesting. The College is scheduled to appear before the County Legislature this week.

Follow me on Twitter @kenkruly

The Green New Deal — big on ideas, but with no details

The 2018 blue wave that brought a strong Democratic majority to the House of Representatives in 2018 unleashed all sorts of interesting things. It also jump-started the 2020 election.

The new House in the 116th Congress brought many eager and ambitious young members, a great development. New ideas and new vigor are important. One Democrat, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat from Queens, New York City, has dominated press attention concerning the freshman class. For the party’s sake it would help if more of the new members of the caucus received some of the focus. Continue reading

Economic development in New York State — a tale of two cities

Among all the public issues discussed and debated on the federal, state and local levels of government, there is major consensus about the importance of economic matters – creating jobs, stimulating the economy. Once you get past those clichés, however, there is no major consensus about what to do about such things or how to measure the benefits of public development projects. Continue reading

Next time, say no to Trump

This a guest post by Steve Banko, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran who has also served his country in positions in federal, state and local government.

By Steve Banko

Before anyone gets dizzy taking victory laps regarding the reopening of our government, this would be a good time to recognize the real engine behind the reopening. It was the air traffic controllers who spread the pain of the shutdown to the general public and thus impressed Congress and the White House with the critical need to stop posturing and reopen governmental services. Continue reading