Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Silencing the Problem Solvers

By Michael Johns

We should know at least this by now: One of the first signs of failed and lost political leadership is often the creation of a government commission.

On the surface, the development of such commissions might project the image of non-partisanship, seriousness, deliberation and urgency. In reality, though, it more typically reflects political cowardice, rooted in obfuscation, deflection and even dereliction of duty by elected leaders unwilling to take responsibility for the decisions they promised the public they would make on their behalf.

So it has been with the Obama administration. When it comes to politics, this administration is all hands on deck, ruthlessly disparaging its political opponents, dividing the public by class and demographics, and even attempting to invent new bogeymen to distract the public from its own colossal failures.

What is the specific Obama plan for reducing our federal deficit and prioritizing our federal government expenditures? Who knows? With support from his liberal Congressional allies, Obama delegated that responsibility to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the Supercommittee, which three and a half months later has reported that it has nothing to report and was unable to develop any consensus on the committee's charged mission of presenting a deficit reduction plan.

Did the commission fail? That's the wrong question. The more proper question is where is this President's own solutions? What is his own plan for addressing the fiduciary crisis that he contends inflicts our nation's federal entitlement programs? You won't be seeing that plan because this administration knows it is not a vote winner. Instead, they will blame Republicans, blame the commission, and try to deflect the nation's rage. That is one thing this administration has done with some success, and it is what we can expect of it between now and November 6, 2012.

There is good news, however. Some institutions are doing the hard work. Such is the case with The Heritage Foundation, which has offered its detailed "Saving the Dream" plan to simplify the tax code and address the coming crises in federal entitlement programs.

It also is the case with FreedomWorks, which last week released, on behalf of America's tea party movement, "The Tea Party Budget." In so doing, FreedomWorks has done more for America than this President has yet to do: Present a concrete and comprehensive plan for reigning in federal expenditures, reducing the federal debt and bringing the American government into the 21st century while still preserving the tenets of our founding principles.

The details of The Tea Party Budget are thoughtful and an indication that America's tea party movement, unlike the President, is not shrinking from the detailed and sometimes difficult burdens of governance. Among the plan's highlights, it would:

**Cut, cap and balance the federal budget;

**Balance the federal budget without any increase in taxes;

**Reduce federal spending by $9.7 trillion over the coming decade;

**Reduce federal government spending from its current level of 24 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), the highest since World War II, to a more realistic 16 percent; and

**Expand the choices afforded citizens as it relates to their Social Security contributions and, for the elderly, medical plans available under Medicare.

One would think that such a constructive and detailed plan would be welcome in Washington, even among those who may disagree wholly with the plan's details, because it at least begins the hard work of moving from meaningless political rhetoric to concrete solutions.

Yet, this administration and their Democrat allies in Congress are not policy creatures; they are political ones, and this means a strict aversion to constructive solutions, especially those offered by perceived political enemies. As U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) began to convene the FreedomWorks meeting this past Thursday in the Russell Senate Office Building, stern-faced aides of U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) encircled it, informing Lee that it violated an obscure component of the Senate Rules Committee that prohibits unofficial meetings as being advertised as "hearings."

Of course, there was no advance notice given Lee or FreedomWorks. Of course, none of Schumer's aides gave much consideration to the fact that there was nothing particularly unique about this particular gathering that had not occurred countless other times in the very same building under the name of "panel discussion," "briefing," "roundtable," or other apparently innocuous nouns. And of course, there was no consideration to the fact that, in dozens of American cities right now, the Occupy movement, without permits, has spent weeks held up on government and city grounds--offering no real concrete solutions to anything.

Fortunately (thanks to Hillsdale College's Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies), the FreedomWorks meeting was simply moved down the street, where the voice of the people was more welcome. But the image of Washington's liberal elite attempting to silence the tea party is one worth keeping in mind as a political contrast, particularly as next year's electoral season nears: On one hand is a movement offering concrete solutions to America's most pressing challenges; on the other is an arrogant governing elite that continues to rely only on the power of the state and its legal minutia to silence constructive solutions at a moment when America needs them desperately.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More Than One Deficit Reduction Committee Report

By Michael Johns

Conventional wisdom holds that the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, often referred to simply as the Supercommittee, is the sole entity working on a plan to reduce America's deficit. That committee, created by the Budget Control Act of 2011, has until November 23--a week from today--to identify a means to cut the nation's deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over the next decade. The Supercommittee is comprised of 12 bipartisan members of Congress: U.S. Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), John Kerry (D-MA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Rob Portman (R-OR) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) and U.S. Representatives Xavier Becarra (D-CA), Dave Camp (R-MI), Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Fred Upton (R-MI) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

Some speculation holds that the committee may go big, identifying up to $3.7 trillion worth of deficit reductions. But should the committee fail to reach a consensus on at least $1.5 trillion of cuts, an automated plan will kick into place to cut the deficit, including deep cuts to the nation's defense budget that many believe could prove threatening to the nation's security.

Less known is the fact that this committee is not the only one at work on a deficit reduction plan. The Tea Party Debt Reduction Commission will present its findings this Thursday, and it will include a plan to balance the federal budget in less than a decade, reduce federal spending to 18 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), reduce the national debt to at least 66 percent of GDP, and reduce federal spending by at least $9 trillion over the next decade--all without raising taxes. Like the Supercommittee, the Tea Party Debt Reduction Commission consists of 12 members, including tea party leaders from Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia.

In presenting its recommendations, the Tea Party Debt Reduction Commission drew on the input of multiple public hearings around the nation and online voting by tea party activists on federal spending cut priorities. In a press release issued Monday, the Tea Party Debt Reduction Commission said its findings "will serve as the tea party's response to the super-committee's likely disappointing findings, and negate the establishment narrative that tea partiers can't identify specific cuts to the budget. Tea party leaders around the country know that Washington can do better, and plan to release materials documenting exactly what cuts can--and should--be made to preserve America's economic future."

The tea party recommendations have been facilitated by the grassroots conservative organization FreedomWorks. Its president Matt Kibbe said that the tea party recommendations will "show Washington that there is a strong, grassroots constituency to support bold budgetary reform." The tea party committee's recommendations will be presented Thursday at 2pm in Room 325 of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. The public can follow the tea party recommendations on Twitter by following hashtag #TPDC.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Mitt Romney Question

By Michael Johns

In an apparent effort to appeal to the tea party movement, which is expected to prove hugely influential in determining the 2012 Republican nominee for President, candidate Mitt Romney spoke to Americans for Prosperity's "Defending the Dream" summit this past Friday, offering his most detailed proposals to date for reigning in government spending.

Romney's proposed cuts would cap federal spending at 20 percent of the nation's gross domestic product (current federal spending comprises approximately 39 percent of it). Among his significant proposed reforms, he would privatize Amtrak (saving $1.6 billion) and curtail public funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which runs PBS) and the Legal Services Corporation (which provides legal assistance that is largely duplicated by state, municipal and philanthropic sources). His proposed cuts also include eliminating Title X family planning funding (a primary source of funding for Planned Parenthood) and reducing foreign assistance by $100 million.

Americans for Prosperity, which maintains 34 state chapters and claims 1.8 million members, is one of several influential national organizations that have expressed support for the nation's tea party movement.

Romney's proposals, however, are proving unpersuasive to some tea party leaders and activists. Earlier today, a coalition of conservatives announced the formation of the "Not Mitt Romney" coalition, which is seeking to unite conservative and tea party voters against the former Massachusetts governor. Its first advertisement features numerous public comments by Romney that deviate substantially from established conservative policy positions, including Romney expressing support for the 2008 TARP bank bailout and distancing himself from the administration of former President Ronald Reagan.

The coalition's three founders are Ali Akbar, a Republican communications consultant, John Hawkins, a conservative blogger, and Matt Mackowiak, a conservative political consultant. In a November 4 Des Moines Register op-ed, the three wrote that Romney "is not a conservative" and criticized his historical policy positions, including pro-choice stands, refusing (until recently) to sign Americans for Tax Reform's "no tax" pledge, raising taxes during his Massachusetts governorship and supporting the Brady gun control legislation.

The three have also challenged the often-made "electability" argument for Romney, which holds that the former Massachusetts governor is the best-positioned Republican candidate to defeat President Barack Obama in the November 2012 general election. Romney lost a 1994 campaign for the U.S. Senate to Ted Kennedy and, most recently, the 2008 Republican Presidential primary to John McCain.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

OWS is no Tea Party

By Michael Johns

As the Occupy movement enters its second month, the inclination to compare and contrast it with the nation's mammoth tea party movement is proving irresistible. The Occupy protests are “not that different from some of the protests we saw coming from the tea party,” President Barack Obama suggested to ABC News last month.

But aside from both movement's populist foundations and a shared opposition to the 2008 TARP bank bailouts, few other specific common denominators are emerging. "No matter how similar the tea partiers and the Occupiers appear, they will never agree about most of the political questions that matter," Huffington Post columnist and author Kent Greenfield wrote earlier this month in a column generally supportive of the Occupy movement.

From the tea party perspective, the comparisons are being similarly rejected with a growing sentiment that the differences between the two movements are striking not just from a policy standpoint; they go right to the heart of the ethos of each, perhaps best reflected in the tea party movement's general civility compared to the theft, violence and property damage associated with many Occupy protests (arrests at Occupy protests nationwide now exceed 3,000 with countless incidents of property damage, violence, and even rape).

FreedomWorks president and tea party supporter Matt Kibbe, author of Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto, wrote in a November 3 Wall Street Journal op-ed that "when tea partiers petition their government for a redress of such grievances, as more than one million did on Sept. 12, 2009, they don't get into fights, they don't get arrested, they say 'excuse me' and 'thank you,' they wait in hopelessly long lines for porta-johns, they pick up their trash and leave public spaces and private property exactly as they found them." "No one told myself or other tea partiers to do these things; we just believe that you shouldn't hurt other people and you shouldn't take their stuff," he wrote.

A new public opinion poll released yesterday by The Daily Caller and conducted by The Resurgent Republic shows that both movements enjoy the support of slightly more than a third of the American electorate, with 37 percent viewing the tea party movement favorably compared to 34 percent for the Occupy movement. Among politically critical independent voters, however, the tea party enjoys substantially greater support than the Occupy movement, with 41 percent viewing it favorably versus only 32 percent for Occupy.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Tea Party and Florida

By Michael Johns

Among states critical to winning both the Republican nomination for President and the 2012 general election, few are likely more important than Florida.

At least three factors make the Sunshine State a critical one for Republican presidential candidates. First, the staggered schedule of state elections continues to make early caucus and primary electoral success essential to securing the nomination. With its primary scheduled for January 31, 2012, Florida is proceeded only by Iowa (January 3), New Hampshire (January 10) and South Carolina (January 21) in the electoral schedule. Second, as a product of population growth reflected in the 2010 U.S. Census, Florida has gained two additional electoral votes. Now holding 29 electoral votes, the Florida electoral prize lies only behind California and Texas (and tied with New York). And third, in modern electoral history, only one Republican presidential candidate has lost the general election while winning Florida (George H. W. Bush in 1992), and none has won without it. Republican victors (Richard Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, George H. W. Bush in 1988, and George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 all carried Florida). Republican losers (Gerald Ford in 1976, Bob Dole in 1996 and John McCain in 2008) failed to carry it.

This influence made this past weekend's first ever Florida tea party convention in Daytona Beach an important one as the state's tea party-aligned activists begin affiliating with presidential campaigns and making decisions about how they will cast their January 31 votes. Presidential candidates Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich called in to offer remarks to the convention, and Rick Santorum addressed it in person. Perhaps most important, as The Miami Herald reported, many attendees continued to express grave reservations about the candidacy of Mitt Romney, who, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll released today, is tied with Herman Cain among likely Republican voters.
"Some of these Republicans think they have our votes in the bag no matter what, but they don't," Florida tea party activist Don Koll told The Herald. "They're turning their back on us, and they will pay a price," he said. Another convention attendee, Kelly Staples of Jupiter, Florida, said: "I have yet to meet a committed Romney supporter. I don’t know why people are trying to make him the inevitable nominee, when he’s not."
Among Presidential candidates addressing the convention, Santorum focused on his electability, calling himself "the most electable conservative in this race." Gingrich, in his remarks, called President Barack Obama "the best food-stamp president in American history." Bachmann echoed her campaign message that the U.S. needs to be "a pro-growth, self-reliant nation." The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that the best reception at the convention was given to Cain, who declared that "the attack on my character has backfired."

The convention, however, was also notable for several no-shows, including tea party-supported Florida Governor Rick Scott and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, both of whom had been invited. The convention was organized by Pam Dahl, who leads a tea party organization in The Villages in Central Florida. "We were very pleased for it being our first convention," she said. A 2012 Florida tea party convention, she said, is likely.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Virginia Tea Party Alliance: Democrats "Need to Be Held Accountable"

By Michael Johns

Less than a week before Virginia's November 8 general election, northern Virginia State Senate Democrats are on the defense as the tea party movement late last month began airing a widely-broadcast advertisement calling for their ouster. Purchased by the Virginia Tea Party Alliance, the advertisement targets seven northern Virginia Democrats, associating them with "Obamacare," in-state tuition assistance for illegals, high taxes, and big government.

The tea party ad praises Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), who sued the federal government in March 2010 over alleged unconstitutional provisions of the Obama-supported health care legislation. The seven tea party-targeted Democrats include five Virginia Senate incumbents: George Barker (Fairfax County), Charles Colgan (Prince William County), Mark Herring (Loudoun County), Chap Petersen (Fairfax County), and Toddy Puller (Fairfax County) - and two candidates - Barbara Favola (Arlington County) and Shawn Mitchell (Prince William and Loudoun counties).

Virginia Tea Party Alliance executive director Karen Miner Hurd says each of the targeted Virginia Democrats "need to be held accountable for their support of the president’s destructive policies like Obamacare and extreme environmental regulation by the EPA.”

As with other swing states, Virginia's state elections are considered something of a barometer of national political sentiment. President Barack Obama won the state by a six point margin in the 2008 Presidential election. Currently, the House of Delegates is controlled by Republicans. Democrats maintain a slim 22-18 majority in the State Senate.

The Virginia Tea Party Alliance describes itself as "a third force in politics, not a third party."

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How Rick Perry Can Win the Tea Party

By Michael Johns

No Republican Presidential candidate has yet solidified universal support of the tea party movement, but the battle for that support is intensifying. How big is the tea party prize? Still less than three years old, one in four American voters--in excess of 50 million Americans--now support the tea party movement, according to the most recent Gallup poll.

One candidate whose candidacy would be substantially elevated by a more universal embrace of the tea party movement is that of Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose conservative credentials were largely unchallenged prior to his entry to the race. But tea party and Republican support for Perry has fallen substantially since September.

The fall has been steep. A September 20 Gallup poll of Republican voters showed Perry leading all Republican candidates, with 31 percent support (seven points higher than that of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney). However, three weeks later, on October 15, Gallup found that Perry's support among Republican voters had slipped to 15 percent, placing him behind both Romney (20 percent) and Georgia businessman Herman Cain (18 percent).

What accounts for Perry's slip? Many signs point to a growing recognition among tea party and Republican voters of Perry's unpopular decision to provide illegal aliens with in-state tuition rates to Texas colleges and universities. "You put in place a magnet to draw illegals into the state, which was giving $100,000 of tuition credit to illegals that come into this country," Romney told Perry during a Republican Presidential debate last month.

Possibly intensifying concerns about Perry's candidacy among tea party voters, the Texas governor has been unapologetic in defense of the policy. "Are we gonna create tax wasters or are we gonna create tax payers?" Perry asked last month in New Hampshire.

Tea party concerns about Romney's continued support for the 2008 TARP bank bailouts and a mandated health insurance plan (not so dissimilar from Obamacare) for Massachusetts during his governorship have long troubled tea party activists and, to a large extent, opened the door for possible broad tea party support for Perry and other Republican candidates. But Perry's handling of issues related to border security and illegals continue to hamper that broad embrace.

Those who may know Perry's record best--Texas tea party leaders--continue to raise red flags concerning his candidacy. Last month, as it appeared unlikely that Perry was going to support Republican-sponsored legislation that would empower Texas law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of those they detain, Texas tea party leader JoAnn Fleming derided Perry. "Governor Perry's decided, apparently, that he just needs to keep pointing the finger at Washington D.C., which absolves him of any responsibility," she said.

Still, Perry's otherwise exceptional conservative record as Texas governor, combined with his $17 million campaign war chest, offer him an opportunity of recovering tea party support if he can win back his credibility on issues related to border security and illegals. Such a step might begin with him rescinding his support for in-state tuition assistance for illegals and a reversal of his position on empowering Texas law enforcement to assist in enforcing the nation's immigration laws.
Bookmark and Share