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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Path to Riches: Ron Wyden’s Journey

SenatorRonWyden

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), an outspoken critic of the Republican tax reform plan for including gifts to the wealthy, is one of the wealthy himself. A review of his finances shows he has done darn well in his 36-year Congressional career.

When he first ran for the House of Representatives in 1980 at the age of 31, he had been earning a modest living teaching gerontology and serving as co-director of the Oregon chapter of the Gray Panthers, a senior advocacy group.

He served in the House from 1981 to 1996, then won a seat in the Senate, where he has served since 1996. In other words, he has spent almost his entire his adult life in Congress.

By 2005, Wyden’s net worth was estimated at $4,929,507 by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a non-profit, nonpartisan research group based in Washington, D.C., that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy.

That same year, he married Nancy Bass, a wealthy co-owner of the well-known Strand Book Store in New York City.

By 2010, CRP estimated Wyden’s net worth at $6,847,018.

By 2015, Wyden was the 18th wealthiest Senator, with an estimated net worth of $13,070,041, according to the CRP.

When members of Congress file their annual personal financial reports, they’re allowed to list the value of their assets and liabilities in broad ranges,” according to CRP. “In practical terms, that obscures exactly how much each member of Congress is worth. And the larger the value of the asset, the broader the allowable range.

To account for those ranges, CRP’s researchers establish a minimum and maximum net worth, and then use the average as an estimated net worth for each member of Congress.”

Other than his Strand assets, Wyden’s 10 largest assets held for investment or the production of income were:

Asset                                                                 Minimum Value           Maximum Value

   
Edith Wyden Trust FBO Ronald L Wyden Trust [Amended Report] Brokerage, IRA, 401k $500,001 $1,000,000
DFA US Large Company I [Amended Report] Mutual Fund $500,001 $1,000,000
Oregon College Savings Plan Age 5-8 Age Based Port [Amended Report] Brokerage, IRA, 401k $200,002 $500,000
Oregon College Savings Plan [Amended Report] Brokerage, IRA, 401k $200,002 $500,000
Merrill Lynch Deposit Program [Amended Report] Cash/Money Market/Savings/Checking $250,001 $500,000
Fidelity Investment Cash Brokerage Account [Amended Report] Brokerage, IRA, 401k $250,001 $500,000
American Funds Europacific Growth Fund [Amended Report] Mutual Fund $250,001 $500,000
US Senate FCU Money Market Account [Amended Report] Cash/Money Market/Savings/Checking $100,001 $250,000
US Savings Bond Series [Amended Report] Government Bond $100,001 $250,000
TIAA/CREF IRA Cash Accounts [Amended Report] Cash/Money Market/Savings/Checking $100,001 $250,000

 

Source: OpenSecrets.org

 

 

 

Senator Wyden doesn’t need your donation

wydenmoney

Senator Ron Wyden wants me to know he cares about “real people”. And, by the way, he wants my money, too.

Wyden, who already had $3,398,289 in his campaign account as of the end of 2016, just sent out one more of his voluminous e-mails highlighting how he’s fighting for truth, justice and the American way. He’s also pleading for donors to step up and help him with a $7, $24, $36 or $125 contribution.

This from a Senator who raised $12,628,463 during his previous term, almost all of it from big business and affluent individual contributors and just 5 percent ($664,664) from the little people, according to OpenSecrets.org.

This from a Senator who already has $3,398,289 in cash sitting in his campaign account and may not even run again. After all, Wyden’s already been a member of Congress for 36 years and is going to turn 68 years old on May 3. He’ll be 73 during his next campaign if he runs again. That would make him almost 80 at the end of that term.

Yes, I know, there are 14 senators who are 74 or older, with the oldest, Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA), both 83. And the Senate is a place where politicians with high self-regard and legions of sycophantic staff can come to love living in a special bubble and can see themselves as irreplaceable.

But, is Wyden, who is wealthy and has three young children with his wife Nancy, whom he married in 2005, going to want to do his 24 X 7 Senate job until he’s almost 80?

My bet is Senator Wyden doesn’t need your minuscule individual contribution. Give your money to a non-profit that’s doing great work, instead. The world will be better for it.

 

 

Memo to Oregon’s Congressional Delegation: Pay Your Interns

internscongress

Every summer, it’s a deluge. Thousands of eager students descend on Washington, D.C. to intern in Congress. It’s the perfect opportunity to see first-hand how the legislative process works, a good way to get a foot in the door in politics and often gives ambitious young people a leg up in their careers.

Some of those ambitious young people end up working for members of Oregon’s congressional delegation, all of whom talk incessantly about the need to prepare students for the future, support equality of opportunity and encourage the creation of good jobs.

So what are they paying their interns?

Zero. Zip. Not one thin dime. Not one red cent.

Money Magazine estimates it will cost an intern a minimum of $5300 to spend a summer interning away from home when you factor in air travel, rent, transportation, clothes and food.

This means a good number of young people simply can’t afford to intern in Congress.

One result? Low-income Oregonians having to choose between a career enhancing internship for an Oregon member of Congress and a summer job with a house painting company may have little choice if they need to make money.

That means students from well-off families can afford to take a career-building unpaid internship, but not the kid from an average family struggling to deal with potentially crippling college loan debt. That perpetuates inequality.

The situation has become so acute that some former Congressional interns have even formed an organization, Pay Our Interns, to advocate for paid internships. “A student’s socioeconomic status should not be a barrier to getting real-world work experience,” the group says.

Here’s a chance for Greg Walden, the lone Republican in Oregon’s congressional delegation, to get things rolling and show some leadership by instituting a paid internship program.

So do the right thing, folks. Pay your interns. You’ll all be the better for it.

 

 

 

Oregon’s Republican Party is committing suicide

seppuku_by_mark_san

It’s hard to watch a party self-destruct.

If you look at all the races on the Oregon ballot on Nov. 8, it’s clear that the Republican Party has largely abdicated its position as the loyal opposition.

It starts at the top with the U.S. Senate race. Anybody know who the Republican candidate is? His name is Mark Callahan. I can tell you he went to OSU. But his website doesn’t list any events he’s attending and OpenSecrets.org reports he has raised just $15,852 (compared with Democrat Ron Wyden’s fundraising total of $11.4 million).

The 3rd and 5th District races for the House of Representatives aren’t any better.

In the 3rd, which includes most of Multnomah County, including Portland east of he Willamette, 10-term Democrat Earl Blumenauer is opposed only by Progressive Party candidate, David Delk, who says he has no experience. OpenSecrets.org reports he has raised nothing (compared with Blumenauer’s fundraising total of $1.1 million). Of course, the 3rd has been held by a Democrat since January 1937.

In the 5th, the Republicans did manage to recruit Colm Willis to run against Democrat Kurt Schrader. Willis has deep Oregon roots, graduated from Willamette University’s School of Law and worked as a staff member on a U.S. Senate committee, but he has raised just $239,113 (compared with Schrader’s $1.6 million)

How about the governor’s race?

budpierce

Bud Pierce

Bud Pierce may be a great doctor and a nice guy, but he was invisible statewide, a cipher, until this election. He’s managed to raise $2.5 million, but Brown has raised $3.5 million and Oregon hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1982.

An OPB poll released on Oct. 17 showed that Brown leads Pierce by an astonishing 46 percent to 33 percent. This despite the fact that even Willamette Week offered faint praise for Kate Brown, declaring, “Brown’s greatest political strength is her affability—and her ability, so far, to blame problems on her predecessor.”

Work your way down the Oregon ballot and it gets worse, with many Democrats facing NO republican opponent.

The Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (RLCC), a state-oriented national organization that seeks to elect Republicans to state legislatures, identified the Oregon State Senate and House of Representatives as targets in the 2016 elections. You’d never know it.

In the Oregon State Senate races, there’s no Republican candidate in the 14th, 18th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd Districts.

In House races, there’s no Republican candidate in the 9th, 27th, 34th, 35th, 36th, 42nd, 43rd, 44th, 45th, 46th, 47th and 49th Districts.

How in hell the Republicans ever hope to recover power in Oregon under these circumstances is beyond me. And that’s not healthy for Oregon. One party dominance leads to corruption, cronyism, recklessness and abuse of power.

The thing is, if the Republicans would focus on building a strong bench, skillfully build public awareness of those with the greatest potential, encourage them to run for office and back them up with ample financial support, they can win and change the dynamic of state politics.

Look at the 2010 race between Democrat John Kitzhaber and Republican Chris Dudley. Despite some clear errors in strategy and execution, Dudley captured 694,287 votes, only 22,238 fewer than Kitzhaber’s 716,525. Damn close. More promising for the Republicans, Dudley carried all but 7 of Oregon’s 36 counties.

2010governorrace

Blue counties: won by Kitzhaber;                 Red counties: won by Dudley

Lane and Multnomah Counties, two Kitzhaber won, may be a lost cause for Republicans, but if Dudley had been able to peel off more votes in the other 5 he might well have won.

In other words, offer appealing, moderate candidates, back them up with financial resources, run strong campaigns across Oregon and Republicans can win.

Big campaign donations are evil, says Senator Ron Wyden, but keep them coming

 

senatorronwyden

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)  is running for-reelection. So he’s hitting up his constituents.

“Sign the petition calling for affordable housing solutions,” his email said on Sunday. “We need more affordable housing and we need it now. I’ve proposed new legislation to encourage, support, and accelerate the construction of affordable housing nationwide.”

And if you sign the petition, he asks for money, with choices ranging from $5 to $500 or more.

If you sign the petition, you also get a thank you message and another request for money, this time with choices of $7, $24, $36 or $125.

All these appeals from a Senator who, according to OpenSecrets.org,  had $7,557,657 of campaign contributions in the bank as of his last fundraising report on June 30. In comparison, his Republican opponent in this 2016 Senate race, Mark Callahan, had a measly $4,546 on hand.

And just 27 percent of the money Wyden has raised for his current race has come from donors within Oregon, with 73 percent ($5,420,369) coming from out of state.

In the meantime, while asserting that big donors undermine democracy, Wyden has been pulling in money from big donors big time.

Over the past six years, the biggest donors have been some really big players, like Nike Inc., Intel Corp., and Berkshire Hathaway.

campaignfinancebigdonors

If you think about it, why does Wyden, who’s 67, need such a big war chest? If he’s re-elected, as he likely will be, he’ll be 73 at the end of his next term and will have spent 42 years in Congress. Won’t that be enough?

If Wyden truly believes there’s too much money corrupting politics, with big donors of particular concern, why not take a break from fundraising? A lot of us would welcome the time-out.

(Good grief. I just got one more email fundraising plea from Wyden. This time, he’s asking me to contribute $25, $50, $100, $250, $500, $1,000 or more. Will the next plea be for $10,000 or more?)

Donations to Senator Ron Wyden 2011-2016 (Source: OpenSecrets.org)

These numbers don’t reflect donations from organizations themselves, but from the organizations’ PACs, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals’ immediate families. Organization totals include subsidiaries and affiliates.

Rank Contributor Total
1 Nike Inc. $124,222
2 Blue Cross/Blue Shield $105,900
3 League of Cons. Voters $75,012
4 Intel Corp. $74,307
5 Akin, Gump et al $70,155
6 Berkshire Hathaway $57,900
7 DaVita HealthCare Partners $50,750
8 Metlife Inc. $48,507
9 DLA Piper $43,700
10 King & Spalding $42,560

It’s bail-out time for the United Mine Workers of America union

unitedmineworkersofamerica

It’s election time, so let’s bail out somebody.

The Senate Finance Committee voted Wednesday to rescue the coal miners union’s pension plan and avoid its likely insolvency by the end of this year.

The Committee approved a bill, known as the Miners Protection Act, that would transfer hundreds of millions of dollars from a federal fund meant for cleaning abandoned mines to the United Mine Workers of America’s (UMWA) multi-employer pension plan.

Supporters of the bill included all the Democrats on the Committee, but some Republicans cautioned that the bill could set the stage for bailout demands by hundreds of other multi-employer pension plans at risk of insolvency.

Among the supporters of the bill was Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). “Today, tens of thousands of mine workers and their families, including so many widows, are in serious danger of losing that lifeline, losing that security,” Wyden said. “These are hard-working people who come from communities where broken promises, bad policies and bankruptcies have hit like one wrecking ball after another for decades,” he said. “Congress, in my view, has an obligation to step in and make good on the promise that America made back in 1946.”

The fate of the bill in the full Senate and the House is still to be determined.

This isn’t the first time Wyden, no friend of fiscal responsibility, has backed efforts to bail out the United Mine Workers of America union.

In 2014, while Congress, the country and media were fixated on the twists and turns of efforts to rescue the Highway Trust Fund, Wyden tried to use the Trust Fund legislation to bail out the underfunded United Mine Workers of America’s pension plan.

When the Senate Finance Committee, which Wyden chaired at the time, first reported out a Highway Trust Fund bill it slipped in a provision advocated by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va). The provision called for $2.7 billion of the funds raised to be diverted to help bail out the underfunded pension plan for retired coal miners.

In 2014, Wyden’s committee proposed paying for the union rescue with a gimmick called “pension smoothing” that has been roundly criticized by liberals and conservatives alike as nothing more than a sham.

Thankfully, Wyden’s gambit failed when the Senate accepted a House version without the miners’ pension provision.

But bad ideas never seem to die in Congress, and it’s election season, so here we go again.

 

 

 

Observations on media: Bill O’Reilly’s excellent wartime adventures and gotcha journalism

Bill O’Reilly’s excellent wartime adventures

Oh come on now, Billy.

Bill O'Reilly

Bill O’Reilly

Just admit it. You misspoke, fabricated, misled. Oh hell, you lied. You’ve claimed you reported from the Falkland Islands during the 1982 conflict between Britain and Argentina. Now you’re saying you didn’t.

“I said I covered the Falklands war, which I did,” he says, citing how he covered popular protests in Buenos Aires, about 1,200 miles from the Falklands, as a CBS News reporter.

But the fact is that in 2001 he wrote in his book, “The No Spin Zone: Confrontations With the Powerful and Famous in America”:

“You know that I am not easily shocked. I’ve reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falkland Islands, and in chaotic situations like the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.”

And in 2013, he said in a TV interview that he’d covered a protest “…in a war zone in Argentina, in the Falklands.”

Politico was right on when it noted that O’Reilly would likely attempt to dismiss the reporting on his lies by David Corn and Daniel Schulman of Mother Jones by dismissing them “…as left-wing zealots bent on his destruction.”

Yep.

Gotcha Journalism 

On the other side of the coin, eporters and opinionators are jamming Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin with inane questions about things they don’t really care about, but give them a chance to be annoying.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

It reminds me of when KOIN-TV played a gotcha game with five U.S. Senate candidates from Oregon in 1995, asking each of them seven questions. Congressman Ron Wyden got all seven wrong and suffered some embarrassment as a result. But few people would probably have gotten them right. One Wyden missed, for example, asked, “What is the average cost for a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, a gallon of gas, and a pair of Levi’s jeans?”

And this was critical to serving effectively as a U.S. Senator?

In Walker’s case, a television reporter in London asked him whether he believes in evolution, the Washington Post asked him whether the president is a Christian, and reporters at a National Governors Association meeting in Washington hounded him on whether he agreed with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani who accused President Obama of not loving America.

Walker’s answers, and non-answers, generated media criticism of his qualifications, including an over- the-top opinion column in the Washington Post by Dana Milbank asserting that Walker had “displayed a cowardice unworthy of a man who would be president” and “…ought to disqualify him as a serious presidential contender.”

Let the campaign silly season begin.

Replenishing the Highway Trust Fund: more budget shenanigans

borrowing-spendingescher-hands

It’s not just a burst of illegal immigration and a screwed up Veterans Administration that motivates Congress to try budget slight-of-hand. Rebuilding a depleted Highway Trust Fund through dubious manipulations is being tried, too.

Facing depleted resources in the Highway Trust Fund that could hold up road and bridge construction across the country, and the jobs that would come with it, House Republicans and the Obama Administration are backing a bill that would inject up to $11 billion into the Fund by, among other things, making changes to corporate’ pension contributions.

So-called “pension smoothing” would allow companies to temporarily contribute less to their employees’ pension plans.

The theory behind this maneuver is that because pension contributions are tax-deductible, companies will pay higher federal taxes over the ten-year scoring period used by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) if they put less money into their pension plans.

Senator Mr. Wyden (D – OR), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, already sees this as an opportunity to cleave off some of that new revenue. He’s proposing to use about $2.7 billion of the increased tax collections during that 10-year period to help out retired coal miners, who have underfunded pension and health benefits programs.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Wyden has expressed concern in the past about the potential burden on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation from underfunded multi-employer pension plans, in which multiple employers in the same industry contribute to a single pension fund. Of particular concern are multi-employer plans established through union contracts in contracting industries, such as coal mining. Changes in the coal industry has meant fewer employers paying into pension funds on behalf of fewer employees.

But Congress’s “solution” to the Highway Trust Fund’s shortfall is a sham because the revenues that are supposedly increased because of the pension smoothing change would be largely offset in the years after the 10-year scoring period. That’s because corporations will pay less in taxes in years after the 10 year period. In other words, no real savings are realized in the long run. But because those reduced taxes wouldn’t happen until after 10 years, they don’t count in Congress’s method for calculating budget balance.

Wyden, of all people, ought to know that the whole method of producing revenue he wants to use to bulk up the coal miners’  underfunded pension plans is bogus. But why let reality intrude.

So bizarre.

Making it even more bizarre, Republicans vehemently opposed this very same “pension smoothing” policy back in March 2014 when the Democrats proposed using it to pay for the renewal of unemployment benefits.

“When they were seeking a spending offset to the five-month extension of unemployment insurance, Democrats were happy to use a budget gimmick,” the New Republic reported. “They would have preferred to use deficit spending, but a gimmick was the next best thing. If Republicans required a spending offset, better a fake one than one that cuts spending on the social safety net or other government programs.”

You have to watch them all like a hawk, don’t you.