Monday Open Thread

“If a man went simply by what he saw, he might be tempted to affirm that the essence of democracy is melodrama.”

–Irving Babbitt

When Ken Buck Is The Reasonable One…?

Finger on the button.

Finger on the button.

FOX News’ Chad Pergram with a surprisingly candid report on a tough week ahead for Speaker John Boehner and the fractious GOP-controlled House:

Next week could very well break the U.S. House of Representatives.

Or, if things go well, the House Republican majority could score two of its biggest legislative victories in quite a while, demonstrating it can govern.

The stakes are high as the GOP plans to debate and approve a budget. It’s a two-step in which Republicans slash spending but maneuver parliamentarily to bolster defense programs, satisfying both fiscal conservatives and budget hawks.

Or, the effort could blow up in the Republicans’ face.

In addition, the House will tiptoe through what has become one of the most-nettlesome votes in Congress: approving a replacement measure to cover the “doc fix” for physicians and seniors who use Medicare.

In the days since the Republican-controlled House and Senate released their competing budget proposals, each has been widely panned as reliant on “gimmicks” to achieve their stated goals–for this year, and to achieve the long held “Tea Party” goal of balancing the budget within a decade. The biggest problem is that, while both budget proposals would fully repeal the Affordable Care Act, they keep the tax revenue generated by it.

In other words, they’re totally unworkable.

The only thing we can add is that when freshman Rep. Ken Buck, one of the loudest and angriest conservatives in the GOP House says his chamber’s plan is not realistic, we’re obliged to take note:

Still, some Republicans aren’t even drinking their own party’s Kool-Aid when leaders extoll the merits of Price’s budget.

“I don’t know anyone who believes we’re going to balance the budget in 10 years,” claimed Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo. “It’s all hooey.” [Pols emphasis]

And one more problem: any conservative alternative likely would be even worse.

[T]here’s a problem when considering a substitute: If the House adopts a substitute before the base resolution (in this case, Price’s budget), that budget wins. The entire process comes to a screeching halt and members never get to Price’s outline.

One senior Republican leadership source told Fox “we’re screwed” if the House OK’s the RSC budget or anything. The source argued the top-line spending numbers in any budget more conservative than Price’s are too low and could have drastic fiscal impact on the entire federal government. [Pols emphasis]

So before we conclude that Ken Buck really is the voice of Republican reason in the budget debate, we should probably ask what his alternative would be. Because there’s every reason to believe what Buck wants would be much worse. The again, based on recent experience, the entire effort from the GOP to produce a budget that the President could sign with this dysfunctional majority is mostly likely a waste of all of our time.

We invite Rep. Buck and his colleagues to prove us wrong.

Weekend Open Thread

“It is one thing to praise discipline, and another to submit to it.”

–Miguel de Cervantes

Don’t Discriminate Against the Elderly; Everyone Else is Fair Game

Sen. Laura Waters-Woods.

Sen. Laura Waters Woods

Freshman Senator Laura Waters Woods (R-Arvada) is up for re-election in 2016, and that means Senate District 19 will be one of the most heavily-contested legislative races of the cycle. Republicans may wish they could get rid of her (and they might try), because she has been nothing short of her own negative advertisement during her first few months in the Senate. 

“We don’t want to discriminate against the elderly, so that is why they were excluded in this bill.”

— Sen. Laura Woods, speaking today on the Senate Floor in support of SB15-069

Senator Waters Woods was again on the Senate floor today speaking in favor of her “Right to Discriminate” legislation (SB15-069) that seeks to repeal anti-discrimination laws put on the books just a few years ago. Under existing law, employees have rights against discrimination based on disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, national origin, or ancestry; Republican-aligned business interests have opposed these laws because they fear “frivolous lawsuits,” and Woods has been just the person to carry this leaking pail of water around the Capitol in 2015.

Woods wants to get rid of almost all of the anti-discrimination protections created in the “Job Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act of 2013,” but she has rendered her own arguments moot by insisting on one solitary exception. Woods believes that Colorado should only have anti-discrimination laws that protect the elderly, an absurd stance to take on an already ridiculous policy idea. As Sen. Rollie Heath (D-Boulder) said in a press release, “It doesn’t make sense. A 77 year old white man, like me, is protected under the bill still, but a 60 year old African American is not. Why?”

It’s not like this bill was a late addition to the calendar that caught some people off guard; Woods introduced this bill in January, and has been taking heavy blows in the media ever since. Did Senate Republicans not realize that Woods would be so vocal in her support of an exception for the elderly? Have they not been paying attention to the words that are coming out of her mouth? [Video after the jump]

The “Right to Discriminate” bill has one stop left on the Senate floor before it heads to the House for its official demise, which makes this whole thing that much weirder from a political and strategic perspective. Republicans don’t have the votes to get this bill to the Governor, so why not just kill it in a Senate committee before Woods can use it for self-harm? This is a bad bill, made worse by stupid arguments, all of which will undoubtedly come back to haunt Republicans in one of their most at-risk State Senate seats.

Watch the video after the jump…

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Gardner Gets Weasely On Crude Oil Exports

Sen. Cory Gardner.

Sen. Cory Gardner.

A news hit for Colorado’s junior Sen. Cory Gardner from the trade journal Hellenic Shipping News, a story titled Oil Producers Face Skeptical Congress in Drive to End Export Ban:

Coming into this year, it seemed that the time was right to overturn a ban on exporting U.S. crude oil: Republicans controlled Congress, production was nearing an all-time high and gasoline was falling toward $2 a gallon.

Despite a lobbying push by drillers, and steep job losses in the oil fields, there’s been no significant effort in Congress to lift the 40-year-old ban. Even the Senate’s top advocate for the idea hasn’t proposed legislation…

The reason for the go-slow approach is wariness among lawmakers that they’d be blamed if gasoline prices climb after the ban is lifted. And the oil industry itself is split, with some refiners, who benefit from low prices, opposed to lifting the ban. Oil produced domestically is selling for about $9 less than the global benchmark.

Yesterday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on which Sen. Gardner serves, held a hearing on the subject of lifting the ban on crude oil exports. Going into the hearing, Gardner was reportedly “undecided” about whether to support lifting the ban, but his reported comments certainly indicate where he’s leaning:

Two members of the panel, Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who often sides with Republicans on energy issues, and Senator Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, said they were still undecided on the issue.

Gardner said it may make sense to sense to send some of the light sweet crude produced from shale rock formations overseas, because U.S. refiners along the Gulf Coast can better handle heavier crudes. [Pols emphasis]

Sounds pretty supportive to us! And an energy industry press release after yesterday’s hearing praises Gardner’s “insightful question” that teed up the industry’s argument perfectly:

“Colorado Senator Cory Gardner asked an insightful question yesterday about what happens if we don’t lift the ban,” said Eberhart. “We will have a glut of crude with nowhere to go.  Oil and gas companies will no longer have an incentive to keep producing, so we’ll start losing jobs. The current shale boom has helped create 1.7 million of them.”

Consumers are plowing their savings from cheap gasoline right back into the economy all around the country, helping boost economic growth. The full reasons for the current rock-bottom price of oil are more complicated than simply the “shale revolution,” most importantly the price war initiated by foreign oil producers intended to make North American shale production from “fracking” unprofitable. The industry wants a “price floor” to ensure their operations remain profitable, and the ability to export crude oil would raise prices at least by the difference between the American and global market price–and possibly much more, depending on what OPEC does.

And once the price of oil starts going up again as it surely will, American consumers would feel the pain even more. This is where politicians with the authority to decide these questions must face the hard reality of choosing between their oh-so friendly allies and donors in the energy industry…and the rest of the economy.

Gardner may pay lip service to being deliberative about this, but where he’ll land in the end is unfortunately a foregone conclusion.

Get More Smarter on Friday (March 20)

Get More SmarterYour bracket isn’t busted; it’s just resting…for next year. It’s time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Everyone wants to know how construction costs for a new VA Hospital building in Aurora got so out of hand. Electa Draper of the Denver Post takes a look at the discussion.

► Republicans in Congress, federal budgets, and the “Magic Asterisk.” Paul Krugman of the New York Times explains why Republicans budgets are complete nonsense:

By now it’s a Republican Party tradition: Every year the party produces a budget that allegedly slashes deficits, but which turns out to contain a trillion-dollar “magic asterisk” — a line that promises huge spending cuts and/or revenue increases, but without explaining where the money is supposed to come from.

But the just-released budgets from the House and Senate majorities break new ground. Each contains not one but two trillion-dollar magic asterisks: one on spending, one on revenue. And that’s actually an understatement. If either budget were to become law, it would leave the federal government several trillion dollars deeper in debt than claimed, and that’s just in the first decade.


Get even more smarter after the jump…

(more…)

Coffman And The Budget-Busted VA Hospital: Okay, But…

Rep. Mike Coffman.

Rep. Mike Coffman.

As the Denver Post’s Electra Draper reports, the recent disclosure by the Veterans Administration that the trouble-plagued new VA hospital in Aurora would cost much more than its original estimate to complete, now at a price tag of over $1.7 billion, is giving Rep. Mike Coffman fresh ammunition in his war of words with the Obama administration in general and the VA in particular:

A Veterans Affairs official told members of Congress overseeing construction of the hospital in Aurora, now estimated to cost $1.73 billion, that the department ignored the warnings of its contractors and listened instead to its designers.

“The VA owns this. We own this fiasco,” said Dennis Milsten, VA director of the Office of Construction and Facilities. But others were involved, he said, in creating runaway costs at a construction project begun more than a decade ago…

Milsten told House Veterans Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee that the department’s processes of due diligence broke down. Subcommittee chairman Mike Coffman, R-Colorado, said a better explanation would be “pure incompetence.”

After largely prevailing in his chest-thumping match with VA Secretary Robert McDonald, Coffman has benefitted from considerable positive press from his “oversight” (consisting mostly of irate press statements) of the unfolding cost overrun problems at the new Aurora VA hospital. But let’s be clear: both Colorado U.S. Senators, and more or less the entire House delegation is involved at some level in resolving this issue. We don’t doubt his sincerity, but Coffman can’t pretend that he’s the only one with any responsibility or motivation for fixing the problem.

And here’s the other part of the story that no one has picked up on, at least not yet: Coffman has served on the Veterans Affairs Committee since 2009, and he is chairman of House Veterans Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. Despite this, he doesn’t seem to have cared much about the longstanding troubles with the Aurora VA hospital until well after the area was redistricted into CD-6. The Obama administration’s oversight is justifiably in question now, but isn’t Coffman also on the hook for his oversight responsibilities? At least to some extent?

The Subcommittee provides oversight on programs and operations of the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as those of other federal agencies that pertain to veterans. In carrying out its responsibilities, the Subcommittee conducts hearings, site visits, and investigations nationwide.

It seems to us that once all the chest-thumping concludes, that will be a question worth asking along with rightful questions for the VA. Everyone agrees that the present situation is not acceptable, but there’s a point at which the self-serving bombast looks a little like protesting one’s own guilt.

Not to mention that this hospital hasn’t even exceeded the price of one B-2 bomber yet. So perhaps we should keep an admittedly bad situation…in perspective.

Congratulations–A Piddly TABOR Refund!

vacuum

9NEWS’ Brandon Rittiman:

Colorado taxpayers could be in for state tax refunds between $15 and $89 per person next year, depending on household income.

Those were the predictions from economists for the governor’s office and state legislature presented Wednesday to the state’s joint budget committee.

Colorado is collecting more and more tax revenue due to an improving economy…

In the minds of most Government 101-level citizens, an improving economy would ipso facto mean revenue to plow back into all the priorities the state needs to fund: health care, education, transportation, law enforcement. It would mean no more, or at least fewer quibbles about money to fund programs already on the books like driver licenses for undocumented residents, and properly funding the Colorado Bureau of Investigations for concealed-weapons background checks.

But in Colorado, with our 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights tying the hands of elected officials, that conventional wisdom is turned on its head. AP’s Ivan Moreno:

The state’s quarterly forecasts released Wednesday from legislative and governor’s office economists showed lawmakers they will have to refund anywhere from $70 million to $220 million in tax year 2016. Those refunds are triggered by the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which calls for refunds when revenue exceeds the combined rate of inflation and population growth…

Democrats have long blasted TABOR spending limits as restricting government’s ability to make investments in services, particularly when the economy rebounds after years of cuts during recessions…Republicans, meanwhile, favor TABOR and see it as a needed check on overzealous government spending during economic booms.

If you ask the average Colorado citizen what TABOR does, if they have an answer at all it will usually be limited to its most famous provision requiring votes on tax increases. Unfortunately, that’s just the tip of a long, long iceberg. TABOR’s arbitrary limits on spending, restricted to the rates of inflation and population have made things even worse. The state has not fully restored the major cuts forced all over the budget during the recent recession–but without a statewide vote to allow “excess” funds to be retained and put to beneficial use, the benefit citizens naturally expect to realize from improving economy and government revenue is squandered.

Squandered so taxpayers can get a check for between $15 and $89. Yes, every dollar in your pocket counts. But the value of programs and services Coloradans rely on every day counts too, and in this case there is a strong argument that the personal benefit of properly funding our public institutions is worth more to a taxpayer than dinner at Chili’s.

Or at least it should be.

Another Contentious Jeffco School Board Meeting Tonight

When you're done trying to pull your hair out, you may look like this.

When you’re done trying to pull your hair out, you may look like this.

The always contentious Jefferson County School Board convenes again tonight to discuss their plan to make major changes to several schools in the Wheat Ridge/Arvada area.

Earlier this week, YourHub reporter Josie Klemaier took a look at the latest controversy regarding the unpredictable school board:

The Jefferson County Public Schools board proposed at its March 5 meeting that Manning, an option school, take over the Everitt Middle School building in Wheat Ridge, which would allow Maple Grove Elementary to expand into Manning’s building at 13200 W. 32nd Ave. Maple Grove is currently at 3085 Alkire St…

…While some members of the board see this as an opportunity to expand the schools’ successful programs, parents and administrators are worried it will muddy the close relationship the Applewood neighborhood has with the two schools.

“Our students would be attending an elementary that is larger than most middle schools and some high schools,” said Ali Lasell, who has two children at Maple Grove and said she and her husband moved to Applewood in part for the schools. “We would have some very serious conversations in my house about whether we will continue in Maple Grove or not.” [Pols emphasis]

Maple Grove Elementary School has long been one of the strongest K-6 schools in Jefferson County. The right-wing Jeffco School Board likes that Maple Grove, so their solution is to just keep adding more and more students to the good school. Brilliant!

The action kicks off tonight at 5:30 pm at the Jefferson County Administration Building.

 

Get More Smarter on Thursday (March 19)

Get More SmarterWe don’t care what anybody says: Today is NOT the first day of the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It’s time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Anyone got an extra $1.73 billion that they aren’t using? We may need it to finish the new VA Hospital in Denver that is actually in Aurora. Also, Rep. Mike Coffman is complaining again that other people aren’t doing stuff.

► Surprise! No, wait…what’s the opposite of surprise? Colorado doesn’t have much room in next year’s budget to fund things. It’s almost like we need a new source of revenue or something.

 ► We may not have much money in the state coffers, but at least we’re offering tax refunds! Thanks, TABOR: Destroying Colorado one ratchet effect at a time.

 ► But wait, The U.S. Senate will save the fiscal day! Oh, nevermind.

Get even more smarter after the jump…

(more…)

Thursday Open Thread

“It takes a lot of things to prove you are smart, but only one thing to prove you are ignorant.”

–Don Herold

Senate Budget: Legislating With Crayons

gardnerryancash

Sen. Cory Gardner, left, and House Budget “genius” Rep. Paul Ryan. They want your money…but they aren’t sure what to do with it.

Senate Republicans announced their federal budget plan this afternoon, and it…well, it’s not so good. As the New York Times reports:

Over all, the Senate version hews closely to the budgetary intent of the House proposal, relying on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, turning Medicaid and food stamps into block grants, and cutting domestic programs to end federal red ink without tax increases.

The Senate budget also relies on a significant gimmick by counting on a repeal of the health law but also assuming that $2 trillion from the law’s tax increases will continue to flow into the Treasury. [Pols emphasis]

The budget does little to placate concerns of Republican defense hawks that spending caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act are significantly undermining Defense Department operations. Rather than adding money over the caps, the Senate plan creates what is known as a “deficit neutral reserve fund,” which would allow negotiators later this year to reach an accord that overrides the 2011 budget law.

Did you catch that paragraph about the “significant gimmick?” Senate Republicans want to repeal Obamacare and pocket the $2 trillion in savings.

So, Republican Senators don’t have a plan to replace Obamacare with anything, but they’re going to keep the money from gutting health care so they can spend it on…other stuff? What?

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times breaks down the Senate plan in pretty straightforward language:

The first Senate Republican budget since 2006 is long on ambition but short on details. It foresees saving $4.3 trillion from mandatory programs like Medicare, food stamps and Medicaid, but unlike the House budget, it does not make specific policy prescriptions, such as converting Medicare into a voucherlike program that allows older people to buy subsidized insurance on the private health care market.

The budget offers up $430 billion in savings from Medicare without saying how. [Pols emphasis] It does require a change to Medicaid to cede much of its administration and control to state governments, saving $400 billion over 10 years. But by maintaining coverage requirements for the low-income elderly and for people with disabilities, the Senate’s Medicaid savings are less than half of the House’s proposed $913 billion cut.

Budget committees from the Senate and House should begin discussing their curious budget proposals next week in hopes of finding some sort of fiscal agreement that doesn’t just completely ignore reality…or totally screw over the Middle Class.

Ad Praises Gardner For Not “Cutting Medicare”–Not Yet, Not Anymore, We’re Not Entirely Sure

Subscribers to the Denver Post found this half-page ad waiting for them on page A8 today:

thankscory

As you can see, this ad is thanking Sen. Cory Gardner for “protecting seniors from additional Medicare funding cuts.” Now, given Gardner’s long history of votes to cut and/or privatize Medicare (see: Ryan budget), this might come as a bit of a surprise to you–and frankly, it did to us as well. It’s possible that this is a reference to the Senate GOP’s latest budget proposal out this week, which doesn’t cut Medicare quite as much as the competing budget proposal from the Republican-controlled House. The ad does say additional Medicare cuts, after all, so we’re probably not talking about the money saved from Medicare’s smaller future growth as a result of the Affordable Care Act–frequently misrepresented by the GOP as “Medicare cuts.” Perhaps this is about thanking the Republican Senate to spite the Republican House? We invite additional theories.

Most likely, however, is that this thank-you ad from the “Alliance for Patient Access” is meaningless partisan pablum. That likelihood is probably most evident reading the bio of the director of the organization, Brian Kennedy. The Alliance for Patient Access’ address is the same as Kennedy’s GOP-aligned Washington D.C. PR firm, Woodberry Associates. “Woodberry Associates designs, implements and  manages grassroots advocacy campaigns” on behalf of “corporate and non-profit clients.”

Over the course of his career, Mr. Kennedy has served as the organizer, manager and/or a strategic consultant to over a dozen coalitions and associations and presently serves as Director of the Alliance for Patient Access.  He has served on the national political staff of two Republican presidential campaigns and is a past Executive Director of the Republican Governors Association. Mr. Kennedy served as Chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, as a member of the Republican National Committee and as Co-Chairman of the 1996 Republican National Platform Committee.  He has also served as a campaign manager to Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, and political advisor to United States Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, United States Senators Lamar Alexander, John McCain and Elizabeth Dole and Governor Mitt Romney.

Clearly, this is a man who runs expensive newspaper thank-you ads without any partisan considerations! And what exactly is a “grassroots campaign” operated “on behalf of corporate clients?” Because that seems like an oxymoron.

And with that, we realize we’ve spent way too much time analyzing this rather obvious sham.