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Want to keep the government afloat? Here’s the list of House GOP demands


Just like the old Ginzu Knife commercials… “But wait, there’s more!”

Yes, House GOP leaders are insisting on a one-year delay of Obamacare (aka, the Affordable Care Act) as a condition of resolving this latest federal fiscal fiasco.

But that’s not all they’re looking for.

As compiled by the New York Times, here’s the list of House GOP leaders’ other demands:

…fast-track authority to overhaul the tax code, construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, offshore oil and gas production and more permitting of energy exploration on federal lands… roll back regulations on coal ash, block new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on greenhouse gas production, eliminate a $23 billion fund to ensure the orderly dissolution of failed major banks, eliminate mandatory contributions to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, limit medical malpractice lawsuits and increase means testing for Medicare, among other provisions.

Does anybody (other than Fox News and a few hundred Internet trolls) still think the House leadership is trying to “compromise” and resolve this latest Congress-created crisis?

 

It’s Baaack! GOP puts US economy at risk (again) over the Keystone Pipeline

Trans Canada Keystone Oil Pipeline by Shannon Patrick via FlikrJust like an unwanted dinner guest that you can’t convince to leave, the Keystone Pipeline project is still on the GOP’s legislative agenda.  Actually, it’s now at the top of the GOP’s legislative agenda.

Read the news stories: Republican leaders have apparently given up on efforts to rein in their Tea Party legislators.  Last Friday, the House voted – for the 42nd time – in their futile attempt to repeal Obamacare.  Next Monday, the federal government is probably going to close down – because Congress can’t bring itself to pass annual Appropriations bills.  Jobs bills – and legislation to repair long-neglected roads and bridges – are gathering dust on Representatives’ shelves.  Immigration reform isn’t going anywhere.  Common-sense gun reform?  Yeah, right.  (About 8,400 Americans have been killed in the nine months since Newtown.  Crisis?  How many people have to die before Congress considers it a crisis?)

But no matter what else they’ve given up on, Republican leaders are still determined to force through TransCanada’s pipeline project.  Sometime in the next month or so, Republicans plan to use debt-ceiling legislation to bypass the administrative review process and authorize construction of the pipeline by Congressional fiat.

No, it’s not the first time the GOP has used fiscal emergencies to try to push the Keystone project through.  Back in December 2011, the Republicans traded about $30 billion in federal debt for an expedited review process (which resulted in the project being rejected).  Since then, House Republicans have inserted Keystone into four other pieces of legislation, including the federal budget.

But why does Congress even care about Keystone?  TransCanada’s pipeline is nothing more or less than a construction project built by and benefitting a private corporation.  Sort of like… if Walmart wanted to build another gazillion-square-foot distribution center.  (Except that a new Walmart distribution center would probably create more than 35 permanent jobs.  Yep, that’s the number of permanent jobs that Keystone is expected to create: just 35.)  So why is Congress getting so involved in the project permitting?

One more time: Keystone is a construction project of a privately-owned corporation.   (Wondering exactly who owns that corporation?  According to Morningstar’s shareholder records, it looks like a whole lot of TransCanada stock is owned by foreign banks.)

One more time: WHY are the Republicans insisting that TransCanada be allowed to build this pipeline?

And whatever happened to “fiscal responsibility”?  Do Republicans really want our government to default on its bills?  That’s the scenario they’re setting up, by tying the debt-limit increase to construction of this private pipeline.

—–

You can read (experience?) the GOP’s latest press release about Keystone here.

Read NHLN’s “Why Is the House GOP Obsessed with the Keystone Pipeline” here.

Eminent Domain – who benefits now?

Eminent Domain Gate And Wall by Steve Soblick via FlikrYou just gotta laugh.

Eminent domain — the “police power” that allows government to seize private property — is back in the news.

Only this time, it’s not being used to seize homes so a private corporation can build a “comprehensive redevelopment” project. (Remember the Supreme Court decision in Kelo?)

It’s not being used to seize farms so a private corporation can build a transcontinental pipeline. (Farmers are still fighting in Nebraska and Texas.)

It’s not being used to seize forest land so a private corporation can build a power transmission line. (New Hampshire now has new restrictions against that, anyway.)

Nope. This time, the mayor of a “Desperate California City” is proposing to use it to resolve a huge housing crisis. Nearly half of the mortgages in Richmond, California are “underwater”, with homeowners owing more than the houses are worth — and at high risk of foreclosure. But since the mortgage companies haven’t been willing to write down those loans, Richmond’s mayor wants to use eminent domain powers to seize the mortgages and have the city do it. The banks, of course, have gone to court to try to stop this. (Read more about the situation here.)

Gotta laugh. Kelo, if you remember, was all about using eminent domain to remedy urban blight and improve the tax base. (Of course, a private corporation was going to benefit handsomely in the process.)

Now, here’s this Mayor trying to use eminent domain to prevent urban blight and stabilize the tax base.

“She said she fears homeowners will begin to abandon their homes, leading to blighted neighborhoods and the draining of public coffers to the point of municipal bankruptcy experienced by Stockton, Calif., and Detroit. ‘The city is stepping in where Wall Street and where the federal government have been unable or unwilling to do so,’ she said.”

But this time, local residents — not the corporations — would benefit.

Anybody want to predict how this is going to turn out?

The Kelo project, by the way, did not turn out so well. Apparently, the private developer was not able to get financing for the project, and at last report the cleared land was being used as a dump.

Gotta wonder how all those homeowners feel now.

 

Why is the House GOP obsessed with the Keystone pipeline?

Republican ElephantSo… President Obama met with the House GOP yesterday, trying to find common ground on the federal budget.

And after the meeting, what were the headlines about?  The Keystone XL pipeline.

Say, what?  Our economic recovery is at stake.  There are huge decisions about what sort of government we will have – one that benefits the rich and powerful, or one that takes care of the aged and poor?   Austerity or growth?  Contractors or entitlements?  Deficit reduction or stimulus?

And the headlines are about a private company’s proposal to build an oil pipeline?  Gotta wonder.

Remember December 2011?  Desperate times for tens of millions of Americans who were out of work.  Finally, at the last minute, there was a political compromise:  “An Act to extend the payroll tax holiday, unemployment compensation, Medicare physician payment, provide for the consideration of the Keystone XL pipeline, and for other purposes”.

For policy wonks, that bill was a fascinating political compromise.  In exchange for an expedited permitting process for this one private construction project, all costs associated with the bill were exempted from statutory “PAY-GO” requirements.  In plain English, that means Congress added all of the bill’s costs to the federal debt without any consideration about how to pay for them.

So, how much did that bill cost?  My best estimate, based on an earlier version of the bill, is about $30 billion (and only part of that total was attributable to the emergency unemployment extension).  Step back and look at that political “compromise” from the perspective of an old-fashioned, fiscally-conservative Republican: $30 billion of federal debt was traded for the expedited permitting of a single private construction project.

Waiting for the punch line?  Grover Norquist is their lobbyist. He has been using his position at Americans for Tax Reform to push for the project’s permitting – in whatever bill he can use to get it through Congress.

The merits of the project?  Depends on who you ask, what source you trust.  When Cornell University researchers looked at the data submitted to the State Department, its researchers found that “the project will create no more than 2,500-4,650 temporary direct construction jobs for two years… based on the figures provided by TransCanada… the new permanent US pipeline jobs number as few as 50.”

So, who exactly is going to benefit?  Here’s one guess about the three companies whose stockholders stand to benefit the most.

Having watched that huge “political compromise” back in December 2011, I’m guessing yesterday’s headlines mean that the pending budget and government shutdown bills are going to end up as interesting political compromises, too.

If you aren’t familiar with Mr. Norquist, read more here.

Is there still a line between “government” and “business”?

I’ve been reading through that 2009 Interim Report to Congress about defense spending in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Of all the report’s conclusions and recommendations, here’s the kicker:

“The government still lacks clear standards and policy on inherently governmental functions.” 

In other words, we have gotten so used the government privatizing things that we don’t even stop to think about it anymore.

PBS Prisons for Profit

Click here to watch the PBS show “Prisons for Profit”

Holding people in prison.  Shouldn’t that be an inherently governmental function?  Why has it become a multi-billion dollar private industry, instead?

Taxation.  Shouldn’t that be an inherently governmental function?  Not if you have political connections.  Not if you live in Pennsylvania.  Or California.  Or Virginia.  Or Wisconsin.  (Or lots of other places here in the good ol’ United States.)

Eminent domain.  Inherently governmental?  Not since Kelo.  Just ask anyone standing in the way of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Criminal investigations, searches and seizures.  Inherently governmental function?  Not if you live in Arizona.  Or if your child goes to school there.

Counterterrorism?

War?

Where is the line?  Aren’t there still some things that are “inherently governmental” and should never be contracted-out to for-profit corporations?

And how much are they profiting, anyway?  In a 2011 survey, 63% of government contractors reported making profit rates of more than 5% of revenues (26% of the companies made more than 10% profit).

But it’s still supposed to be cheaper, right?  Another 2011 report found that government contractors pay their employees total compensation worth an average of 1.83 times more than what federal employees are paid.

How much money are we talking about?  It’s hard to tell.  Federal outsourcing was $500 billion a year in 2008.  Since then, the Obama Administration has saved taxpayer money by in-sourcing.

But look at the hoopla about Sequestration.  Remember that infamous George Mason University report calculating that the sequester would “cost the US economy 2.14 million jobs”?

That report was produced for the Aerospace Industries Association, which describes itself this way:

shapes public policy that ensures the US Aerospace, Defense and Homeland Security Industry remains preeminent and that its members are successful and profitable…

AIA lobbyingThe AIA has been investing a lot of money lately, to ensure that its members are successful and profitable.  (Read more here.)

And Rep. Hal Rogers’ bill to avoid a government shutdown?  Looks to me like that was crafted to protect government contractors from the effects of sequestration – at the expense of federal employees and programs for the poor.

Just where IS that line between “government” and “business”?

Does it even still exist?

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