More Merkley drama: the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act

razzledazzle

Not one to miss a chance to put himself in the spotlight, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) grandly announced on July 11 that he led a group of 40 senators in introducing the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act.

Merkley was in so much of a hurry to claim leadership on the bill that he has issued a press release, a section-by-section breakdown of the bill (S. 2113) and a one-pagesummary, but the bill hadn’t even been written.  According to Congress.gov, text had still not been received for S.2113 as of July 16, 2019.

Nevertheless, the bill has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary Committee. Suffice it to say, however, the bill isn’t going anywhere.

One reason – not a single Republican has signed on as a cosponsor. In this, Merkley is continuing to earn his reputation as one of the Senate’s most partisan Members.

The Bipartisan Index measures the frequency with which a Member co-sponsors a bill introduced by the opposite party and the frequency with which a Member’s own bills attract co-sponsors from the opposite party. The Index reflects how well members of opposite parties and ideologies work together.

According to the Bipartisan Index of senators released by The Lugar Center and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, Merkley had the third most partisan track record in the entire Senate in the most recent analysis covering the 115th Congress (2017-2018)

That was even worse than Merkley did in the 113th Congress, when he was ranked the 7th most partisan senator.

Another reason Merkley’s migrants bill is already dead in the water — – how many Republicans does Merkley seriously think are going to support a bill demanding that the Administration “Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children”?

Then there’s the expansive scope of the bill.

The bill would create “non-negotiable standards” for the treatment of migrant children, including:

  • Ending family separations except when authorized by a state court or child welfare agency, or when Customs and Border Protection and an independent child welfare specialist agree that a child is a trafficking victim, is not the child of an accompanying adult, or is in danger of abuse or neglect;
  • Setting minimum health and safety standards for children and families in Border Patrol Stations.
    • Requiring access to hygiene products including toothbrushes, diapers, soap and showers, regular nutritious meals, and a prompt medical assessment by trained medical providers.
    • Requiring children receive three meals a day that meet USDA nutrition standards.
    • Ending for-profit contractors from operating new Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) standard shelters or influx facilities.
      • Ensuring that temporary influx facilities are state-licensed, meet Flores standards, and are not used to house children indefinitely.
      • Expanding alternatives to detention and the successful Family Case Management Program.
      • Lowering case manager caseloads, mandating lower staffing ratios, and ending the information sharing agreement between ORR and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
      • Ensuring unaccompanied children have access to legal counsel and continue to be placed in a non-adversarial setting for their initial asylum case review.

Additionally, the legislation would provide resources to non-profit centers that are helping to provide humanitarian assistance.

It all sounds all very high-minded, but it would be onerous. For example, at a time when shelter facilities are bursting at the seams, ending for-profit contractors from operating new Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) standard shelters or influx facilities would mean rapidly securing replacements.

Then there’s the bill’s cost. But you won’t find that in the hastily issued press release, the section-by section breakdown of the bill, the one-page summary or in a text of the bill itself. That’s because as of July 16, 2019, a Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate for the measure has not been received.

But Merkley and the 39 senators signing on as co-sponsors don’t really care. They know the bill is nothing more than an exercise in stage management, part of legislative theater.

As they sang in Chicago:

Razzle dazzle ’em
Give ’em a show that’s so splendiferous

Row after row will grow vociferous

Give ’em the old flim flam flummox
Fool and fracture ’em

How can they hear the truth above the roar?
_________________

S.2113 is sponsored by Sen. Merkley and co-sponsored by Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ),Chris Coons (D-DE), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mark Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Angus King (I-ME), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The VA and Portland’s road fee: two peas in a pod

More money. That’s the answer, says government. More money.

Portland has a problem with maintenance of its roads. So government does what government does best, it proposes spending more money. The city has “no alternative”, said Mayor Charlie Hales but to impose new street user fees on households, apartment complex owners, businesses and government agencies, including school districts.

The city claims it needs the extra money because revenue has been declining. But John A. Charles, Jr., President and CEO of the Cascade Policy Institute, took a closer look . Charles discovered that the city’s transportation revenue has actually been growing steadily and the city’s general fund has been flush. He concluded that it’s not a lack of money, but choices on spending priorities that has put the city in its current situation with road maintenance.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, D.C., a political debate is raging about what to do with the Veterans Administration, and more money seems to be the easy answer there, too.

department-of-veterans-affairs-lincoln-plaque

Democrats are already saying the solution to the VA’s problems is more money. At the same time they are attacking Republicans for opposing a VA bill earlier this year that would have addressed the crisis with more spending.

And Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has reintroduced a bill to reform the VA that copies the free-spending elements of a similar bill defeated in the Senate earlier this year,  including a provision that would open 27 costly new VA medical centers across the US and in Puerto Rico.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

But more money isn’t going to solve the VA’s problems.

A May 28, 2014 report on problems at the VA’s Phoenix, AZ Health Care System noted, for example, that while conducting its work in Phoenix, the staff and Hotline of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) “received numerous allegations daily of mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions, sexual harassment, and bullying behavior by mid- and senior-level managers at this facility.”

The issues with excessive patient wait times identified in current allegations are also hardly new. The May 2014 report noted that since 2005, the VA OIG has issued 18 reports that identified, at both the national and local levels, deficiencies in scheduling resulting in lengthy waiting times and the negative impact on patient care. Each of the reports listed was issued to the VA Secretary and the Congress and is publicly available on the VA OIG website.

When the Senate failed to pass Sanders bill earlier this year it was principally because of Republican opposition, with Sanders’ cynically saying he hoped opponents would have the courage to face the vets they were depriving of care.

Other Democrats tried to position the party, which rarely sees a new spending bill it doesn’t like, as the pure for-the-good-of-the-people arm of the government, by raising the old “don’t play politics” argument. “Can we put politics aside for the good of our nation’s veterans?” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “Can we show these heroes that – despite our differences – we will work as diligently toward getting them the benefits and care they’ve earned as they have worked for our nation?”

The problem is Sanders’ bill would have cost $21 billion dollars by vastly expanding existing programs and adding new ones, when the VA budget has already been growing like topsy.

The VA, with 151 hospitals and 821 clinics, already has an annual budget that’s more than double what it was a decade ago.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, the VA budget increased in real terms from $45 billion in fiscal year 2001 to $150.7 billion in fiscal year 2014 and President Obama’s 2015 budget for the VA proposes an increase to $163.9 billion.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is already going the class warfare route in urging even more spending.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)

On Monday he blasted Republicans for favoring tax cuts for the wealthy over the health of vets and spending for the war in Iraq on “America’s credit card”  but not being willing to pay for the medical care of vets. All senators should support the Sanders bill regardless of its cost, he said.

With the country already facing more than $17 trillion in national debt and with annual deficits continuing to contribute to that debt, adding more debt just plain makes no sense, even if it is to serve honored veterans.

Equally, adding more veterans services and vastly expanding the pool of veterans eligible for VA services makes no sense when the VA is apparently incapable of professionally providing its services now to its existing caseload.

It would make more sense for Congress to restrain the growth of its potential clients, facilitate a shift of veterans with service-connected disabilities who don’t require specialized VA care to medical services outside the VA system, and address the serious cultural problems that have led to a dysfunctional VA bureaucracy and interminable waiting times for vets deserving of our nation’s care.

In addition, Congress owes it to our heavily indebted country to pay for any additional costs that may be incurred in connection with VA reform with real money. That would require hard choices on budget priorities. Sanders’ February bill proposed that the additional spending be paid for with overseas contingency operations funds used to fund the war in Afghanistan. His new bill would also place caps on overseas contingency operations funds . That money isn’t real savings because it wouldn’t have been spent anyway with U.S. Afghanistan operations winding down.

So watch closely as Congress tries to get out in front of the VA mess. There’s reason to be worried. As Will Rogers said, “This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when a baby gets hold of a hammer.”