Yesterday was the birthday of the last great President this country has had. Our current chief executive throws money at our rotten economy, but Ronald Reagan understood that economic problems are generally much deeper.
The state budget will likely not be ready until late March, Gov. Phil Bredesen said Thursday, a delay intended to take into account federal aid in the massive stimulus package making its way through Congress.
The governor told the Tennessee Press Association he met with legislative leaders, and they agreed that the budget would have to wait until the state knows how much it will get from the stimulus package. That could mean postponing the budget's delivery until late March, he said in an evening address to the TPA.
The governor will deliver his State of the State speech on Monday, but without the budget, which typically accompanies the annual speech to the General Assembly.
The most obvious question here is this: What is the General Assembly supposed to do between now and late March, twiddle their thumbs? Sure, they can pass some bills-but not much that requires any spending, because they will have no clue just how much money, if any, there is to spent. Much of the Legislature's time will be spent in idle chatter over bills might not even be able to become effective or operative. It is quite possible that because of this delay in presenting his budget, the Governor may keep the first session of the 106th General Assembly in Nashville until well into June, or maybe even later.
Secondly, if the Governor feels compelled not to introduce a budget proposal for another month and a half, why deliver the State of the State Address now when, by Bredesen's own admission, he really isn't certain about the overall state of the State. Why not wait and deliver the message along wth the budget in late March?
Of course that would actually make sense, and the Governor seems to be lacking in this critical skill of governance.
There has been much discussion in the press and in the Tennessee blogosphere on both the Left and the Right about what to do with the expected federal money that will come our way when the President's so-called stimulus package comes down the pike. As Karl Rove points out in today's Wall Street Journal, this plan isn't likely to achieve what the President says is its stated objective-the creation of massive numbers of new jobs for the American people:
Since December 2007, Americans lost 791,000 jobs in manufacturing, 681,000 jobs in professional and business services, 632,000 jobs in construction, 522,000 jobs in retail, 167,000 jobs in hospitality, and 576,000 jobs in the rest of the service industry. It would be logical for policy makers to focus on job creation in these sectors.
Instead, Democrats want to spend $88 billion to increase the federal share of Medicaid. What American will be hired by a small business, factory, retail shop, hotel, restaurant or service company because of this spending? The answer is very few.
In H.R. 1, there's $41 billion set aside for school districts, $1.5 billion for university research grants, $2 billion for Energy Department labs, and $3 billion for the National Science Foundation. Yet education is one of the few sectors that added jobs last year.
There's also $4 billion for health programs like obesity control and smoking cessation, $2 billion for the National Institutes of Health, $462 million for the Centers for Disease Control, and $900 million for pandemic flu preparations. Health care also added jobs last year.
So the package contains lots of appropriations that will expand the federal government to a size that is heretofore previously unheard of, and it will expand the government's reach to nearly every level of American life, but it fails to create jobs in the sectors where the employment is most needed.
Perhaps worse is the reality that this is an excuse to spend our money, not really a piece of job creation legislation.
There is also the question of timing. H.R. 1 spends $170 billion in fiscal 2009, $356 billion in fiscal 2010, and $293 billion in fiscal 2011 and after. Spending more in 2011 and beyond than this year tells Americans H.R. 1 is a mammoth spending bill, not a stimulus or jobs package.
What should Tennessee do if a large chunk of federal money comes our way? Could that money help us solve the problem of a seemingly increasing State budget deficit which the General Assembly is constitutionally obligated to address before it adjourns for the year? Yes, the money could provide a way for the Legislature to deal with the deficit, but it is very doubtful that this money will come with no strings attached. It must be expected that the feds will place all kinds of stipulations on how this money can be spent, despite the fact that Tennesseans know better what we need than Washington does.
If the federal government mandates a massive expansion of State government which Tennesseans will hold the bag for if there is a "recovery," the only thing Tennessee can and should do is to just say no to federal entrapment. We may have a rough road, but we do not need Washington taking too active an interest in our internal affairs.
Don't expect the Legislature to tell Washington no, but it would be nice if people on the Hill had the intestinal fortitude to do just that.
Mumpower, TN GOP Want to Uphold State Constitution
Tennessee House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower addressed conservative activists and attorneys in Nashville over lunch Tuesday, and it should come as no surprise that returning to the constitutionally prescribed method of selecting our State appellate judges and justices-electing them-is near the top of the Republican agenda this year:
Judicial selection has been a perennial issue in Tennessee. Though the state constitution requires election of judges, the so-called "Tennessee Plan" from the 1970s created the Judicial Selection Commission, which reviews qualifications of potential judges, then recommends a slate from which the governor chooses. Judges then maintain their seats through retention elections.
These "retention elections" are not really elections at all, since the question is simply "shall so-and-so be named a judge of such-and-such court? YES/NO." Since Judge Yes or No has no opponent, has not campaigned, and rarely is known even among some of the more politically aware, Tennesseans do not elect their judges.
The Tennessee Constitution requires that judges be elected, not appointed by an appointed commission and retained in a referendum. What document did legislators take an oath to support and defend when they were sworn into office? Oh, I'm sorry, having heard the oath in person, I distinctly thought I heard every member swear to "support and defend the Constitution of the State of Tennessee." It's that document that says we are supposed to elect our judges, the one that middle school children do not read these days in class.
The Supreme Court shall consist of five Judges, of whom not more than two shall reside in any one of the grand divisions of the State. The Judges shall designate one of their own number who shall preside as Chief Justice. The concurrence of three of the Judges shall in every case be necessary to a decision. The jurisdiction of this Court shall be appellate only, under such restrictions and regulations as may from time to time be prescribed by law; but it may possess such other jurisdiction as is now conferred by law on the present Supreme Court. Said Court shall be held at Knoxville, Nashville and Jackson. The Judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the State. The Legislature shall have power to prescribe such rules as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of section two of this article. Every Judge of the Supreme Court shall be thirty-five years of age, and shall before his election have been a resident of the State for five years. His term of service shall be eight years. The Judges of the Circuit and Chancery Courts, and of other inferior Courts, shall be elected by the qualified voters of the district or circuit to which they are to be assigned. Every Judge of such Courts shall be thirty years of age, and shall before his election, have been a resident of the State for five years and of the circuit or district one year. His term of service shall be eight years.
Jason Mumpower has apparently latched on to the idea that the State must uphold the very Constitution that its officials are sworn to defend. The response to this idea from liberals is that Mumpower and the GOP are trying to "bring politics into the judicial selection process." Really? It would seem to me that our State Constitution all but mandates such judicial politicking, but that is beside the point. What liberals and Democrats really mean when they talk about not bringing politics into the judicial selection process is that they don't want the wrong politics brought into the selection of Tennessee's judiciary. If these folks actually said what they really mean, this is what we would all hear:
"The election of Supreme Court Justices and appellate judges is a bad thing in Tennessee because the population is innately conservative, and therefore the conservative, pro-life, pro-gun candidates would probably win these elections. Planned Barrenhood would defecate upon their collective selves because liberal abortion policies would almost certainly be thrown by the wayside. Gun regulations would be far more lax. We can't have a judiciary that reflects the views of the people they serve, because the people are too stupid to know what is good for them. We, the Trial Lawyers, are to determine who shall be the judges, and they shall bend to our will, Amen."
After all, who needs the State Constitution when you have the Trial Lawyers' Association?
Kent Williams has said that the Tennessee Senate is in disarray and that all is fine in the House of Representatives. Initially, Williams was telling the press and the public that the House is in fine shape and that not many needed to move offices, and that when the General Assembly reconvenes on Monday, the House would be ready to roll up its collective sleeves and get to work.
The evidence would strongly seem to suggest otherwise...
To his credit, Williams has indeed appointed several Republicans as committee chairmen, and placed several others, including those most ardently opposed to him, in leadership positions on certain committees and subcommittees (albeit some of these more minor appointments were likely done at the insistence of Republican Leader Jason Mumpower). With new leadership roles come new responsibilities and a much greater workload, and-perish the thought-some of these new Chairmen began to exercise their right to ask for offices and staff commiserate with the responsibilities being assigned to them.
Now, the not ready for prime time Speaker discovers that the Democrats who installed him do not want any House Republicans in the Plaza, but want our boys and gals to continue in exile in the War Memorial, even though Republican numbers in both Houses of the General Assembly now outnumber Democrats and the Democratic Caucus is a shrinking-and noticably weaker-beast.
Kent, being unprepared to lead, has finally realized some Republicans have replaced Democrats (I know, it is a shock). He waited until the last minute to think about office assignments and is just now realizing the Dems don't want to share offices with Republicans and they don't want any Republicans in the Legislative Plaza.
Where to put all the new Republicans? Just cram more Republicans into fewer, smaller offices and start shifting who goes where. Instead of a smooth timely transition over a few weeks like the senate had, many House Republican offices are now in a mad last minute scramble to move.
Temporary walls and cubicle spaces are being thrown up, staff is running around trying to box up everything, move it to different offices, unpack it and be ready before session starts. Of course the now smaller Democrat Caucus has more office space, more staff, less responsibility and better pay then ever before and the now larger Republican Caucus has less.
This is why the Democrats wanted to install Kent Williams as Speaker. They knew that he was unprepared to lead and that his early moves would leave the day-to-day running of the House in a general state of chaos. A kind of ordered chaos is, as Jimmy Naifeh once admitted, what kept Democrats in control for so long. Naifeh used his power as Speaker to insure that Republican staff was overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated. Now the Democrats want to maintain that status quo, but there is one big difference; there are entirely too many Republicans to keep objections to this oppressive system from being heard.
And the Senate? They've been moving offices the last three weeks because the new Chairs have new leadership roles-precisely what the House Republicans should have been allowed to do. The Senate will be the body ready to get down to business on Monday.
Barack Obama is set to pick New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg as Secretary of Commerce today. If the President does so, there has been more than a small amount of concern that Gregg's appointment to commerce would mean that the Democrats may get a filibister-proof majority in the Senate. The Governor of New Hampshire is a Democrat, and had been seen as likelyto appoint a Democrat. If Minnesota's unresolved Senate race were to fall in favor of Al Franken, this would give the Democrats 60 votes.
Reports as late as yesterday said that Senate Republican leadership was trying to encourage Gregg to stay with them. The cloture fears apparently may have lead to some backroom negotiating:
Some Republican leaders had urged Sen. Gregg not to take the job because of concerns that his departure could tip the balance of power in the Senate in favor of Democrats. Democrats and Democrat-friendly independents currently control 58 seats in the Senate, two short of the filibuster-proof majority they need to prevent Republicans from blocking measures.
Republicans on Sunday suggested that their concerns over Sen. Gregg's seat had been worked out. "Sen. Gregg has told me that if he were to take this appointment, it would not alter the makeup of the Senate in terms of the majority and the minority," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said on CBS News's "Face the Nation." He didn't elaborate.
It is actually in Obama's best interest politically to avoid a Democratic majority in the Senate that is filibuster-proof (60 or more Democats) because if the Democrats reach that number, even by appointment, from that point forward the President will not be able to blame Republicans for anything that goes wrong, nor will he be able to hang the albatross of his flawed economic plan around Republican necks. The reason is because once the Democrats reach a super-majority in the Senate, there simply won't be enough Republicans left in Washington to stop anything that Barack Obama wants to pass. Whatever happens-success or failure-will be entirely the President's own political fault under those circumstances, and the Republicans will remember that reality in the General Election of 2010.
The interesting question is this: If a backroom deal is being struck to avoid a Senate supermajority, what is the hidden substance of such an agreement?
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