Editorial June 24, 2016

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

A great life if you don’t weaken.

A pretty clear line in the sand was drawn over HR 5525 a bill that would end the FCC Lifeline Program that provides low-cost phones to areas that are underserved by telecoms and for the poor. The idea behind the program is that phones are important ‘lifelines’ and individuals should not be without one because of their geography or income. The bill ends federal subsidies but requires the telecoms to continue paying in for another year.

HR 5525 was defeated on party lines which should tell you something about who cares for the health and safety of the poor and who does not. Looking a little deeper into the bill text we can ask who it would have benefitted. Not necessarily the taxpayer because the bill loses revenue. The money the telecoms would pay into the program for another year would go towards the deficit. Not mentioned in the bill but fairly obvious is that the telecoms benefit largely. After 2017 they no longer need pay into the program but also avoided a proposed FCC expansion of the program to include low-cost broadband requirements for the same population. Is there any other way to see this bill as catering to industry profit goals and reducing the deficit by leaning on the most vulnerable populations by removing their ‘lifeline’?

If you are poor, this was not your week in Washington.

It has gained 116 bi-partisan cosponsors but HR 5170 is at heart a pilot program and sounds great but a good bit of how it would benefit the poor rather than the state remains a mystery.

The bill takes $100 million from the $608 million available for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and make those funds available to encourage and assist states in determining a system for delivering assistance to the poor through the establishment of Social Impact Partnership demonstration projects. ‘The bill would authorize the Secretary of the Treasury to enter into agreements with state or local governments to conduct projects where the federal government would make a payment to the state or local government if the project met the requirements of the agreement and achieved one or more of the outcomes specified in the contract (pay for performance) as determined by an independent evaluator.’

The devil is in the details; Republicans have signaled that block grants are their payment of choice to States who could use the money as they see fit. Besides that the TANF program already allows for redistribution of TANF funds for social impact financing, the bill lists around 30 ‘improvements’ the states should aim for ranging from providing jobs to better opportunities for foster children. The list is pretty exhaustive when considering the myriad of outcomes the bill seeks while offering no guidelines on how to get there. But it is the standards set forth allowing states to participate that is curious; to qualify for the grants the bill requires the state must show the level of welfare spending per poor person for the immediately preceding fiscal year was less than the national average level of State welfare spending per poor person…and the population growth rate of the State for the most recent fiscal year exceeds the average population growth rate for all States.

So the bill is spending in states that handle benefits for the poor on the cheap. Doing less means getting more. One wonders why such states would be motivated to even consider new approaches to helping the poor. The bill is more so an overture to Republican welfare reform for FY 2017 should they gain the White House and hold a Majority in Congress and if you are poor should be taken with a good dose of skepticism since most Republican budgets over the past several years shows efforts to cut benefits to the poor to offset other spending.

Hamilton on Congress

The Case for Limited Government

By Lee H. Hamilton

Hamilton

Hamilton

It has been 35 years since Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural speech as President – the one in which he said, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Over that time, hostility toward government seems only to have grown, led by politicians and embraced by millions of Americans. In this most recent presidential campaign, Republican candidates outdid one another in calling to abolish the agencies they were running to lead, including the IRS, the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Energy.

I find all this troubling. Not because I think those agencies – or the government as a whole – are faultless, but because I don’t see how a democratic society and market economy can function without an effective government. Capitalism and a representative democracy may need to function separately for this nation to be strong, prosperous, and free, but they also need to work together.

In fact, I’d argue that limited government is more often part of the solution than it is a problem. It funds core functions – infrastructure, basic research, the court system, education, anti-crime efforts, national security – that allow private markets and the private sector as a whole to flourish. It sustains national parks, interstate highways, libraries, medical research, the air traffic control system and other services that make this a vibrant society.

It strives to protect Americans from hazardous food and drugs, unsafe workplaces, discriminatory employers, and toxic polluters. It has played a key role in asserting fairness for minorities, women and the most vulnerable people in our society.

This is not to say that government does not overreach, or that it always performs as it should. On occasion, its leaders make poor and misguided decisions; its legislators, however well intentioned, create wasteful and unneeded programs. And every time something like this happens, there are many of us waiting to bash government.

When it performs as it should, on the other hand, few people notice and even fewer of us stand up to defend it.

But let’s get real here. What’s the alternative? We’re not going to do away with government, give unfettered free rein to the market, and hope that someone decides to try to make a go of delivering core services. Nor are we going to go all out and establish government ownership of the means of production. Instead, we have to make the sometimes comfortable, sometimes uneasy co-existence of the market and the government work.

So it’s crucial for our political leaders to hit a pragmatic note and strive constantly to find the right balance between the two. To debate and then establish in clear terms where government should and should not be active. To test what works and what does not and then pursue the former and shut down the latter. To work hard to wring duplication out of the bureaucracy and rigorously pursue efficient, effective, and accountable government. To make sure that enforcement of the law is both tough and fair. And to recognize that their focus on policy needs to be balanced by a focus on effective management and implementation of programs.

The fact is, government has not changed much in size over the decades. For the last 50 years, federal net outlays have fluctuated between about 16 and 20 percent of GDP, with the occasional dip below or spike above. The total federal workforce stood at 5 million in 1964 and 4.2 million 50 years later. Whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat in office, government doesn’t seem to be going away.

Nor, really, do most people seem to want it to. As a politician, you can always get applause for quoting the old Thoreau line (which he in turn paraphrased), “That government is best which governs least.” But start listing what government does that affects people’s everyday lives, and you’ll see members of that same audience nod their heads in agreement. It’s the balance between limited government and the private sector that it’s our job constantly to assess, debate, and get right.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.


 

 Quotes on the Issues

Gun Control

“So far, there have been 6,354 souls taken from us by gun violence, 49 just a week ago. And frankly, had we taken a moment of silence, which would have been justified, for those 6,354 this would be but a short time to call America’s attention to the violence that confronts them, their families, and children.” House Minority Whip Hoyer.

Zika

“Even as the CDC announces that more and more Americans are being affected, House Republicans are debating just how little to spend and which important programs they will cut in order to offset it.  That’s not the way Congress ought to meet the challenge of a public health emergency. ” House Minority Whip Hoyer.

Veto of H.J.Res. 88

“H.J.Res. 88 was a hasty and uninformed attempt to stop a rule that was thoughtfully, responsibly, and transparently crafted over years in conjunction with industry professionals and the public.  DOL conducted hundreds of meetings…and received 3,000 comments over a six-month period from the American people. ” House Minority Whip Hoyer.


 

 Foreign Affairs

Libya

“The Obama administration is throwing its weight behind Libya’s new UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), laying out a $56 million aid plan for the coming months.” The State Department plans to reallocate $35 million in current and prior year funding to help the political transition in Tripoli. – Al Monitor

North Korea

“After five consecutive failures, North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Wednesday, advancing its efforts to extend its striking range to target American military bases in the Pacific.The projectile, a Musudan missile, … flew about 250 miles…” New York Times

Iraq

“Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Friday declared victory over the Islamic State in Fallujah after a day of rapid advances as security forces pushed deep into the city center, dislodging the militants who have controlled it for nearly 2½ years. Abadi said that it was largely under the control of security forces.” – Washington Post

 


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