Capitol View Commentary: Jan. 30, 2009 - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Jan. 30, 2009

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

January 30, 2009

OLD HABITS; WHAT A FIRST MONTH; ENGLISH ONLY FUNDING; THE REST OF THE STORY

When President Obama was asked recently why he is having so much difficulty enlisting Republican support for his massive economic stimulus plan, he replied: "Old habits die hard."

He has a point. Partisan and special interest politics have deadlocked Washington for years, denying needed change. But the fact that not a single member of the GOP in the House of Representatives voted for the President's economic plan is not the only habit that needs some further examination. 

So does the tired old Congressional habit of "pork barrel" spending. The bill passed by the Democrats in the House is overloaded with such items, and you don't even have to look closely to see it.

This is not money we as a nation are spending out of a government savings account. This is money we have to borrow. It adds to our already huge national debt. Therefore every penny of it ought to be spent to actually stimulate the economy and create jobs, not fulfill the pork barrel dreams of some Congressman or Senator.

 That's why Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper (long a budget hawk) broke with his Tennessee Blue Dog colleagues and others in his party to vote against the bill along with ten other Democrats. Cooper cast his vote despite being an early and strong supporter of President Obama, and even though he is in a safe Democratic district. His vote does somewhat increase the possibility he might face a primary fight for re-election in 2010 from Democrats unhappy he is not supporting their new President. But I think it is unlikely this vote will defeat the Congressman, and besides, he may get a second chance to vote on this in a few weeks (more on that later). Regardless, I think Congressman Cooper did the right thing, and so did the Republicans in our House delegation, including Congressman Marsha Blackburn.

From a political point of view, I can also understand why the Democrats in our delegation voted for the measure. We are facing an economic crisis which is the most challenging since the Great Depression of the 1930s. And nobody wants to be labeled the "Herbert Hoover" of our generation (Hoover was President during the Depression), someone who did little or nothing while the economy went down the tubes.

But that's another thing that bothers me. Dating back to the stimulus plans and bailout proposals approved during the latter days of the Bush administration, it appears our national leaders are running around in Washington doing anything and everything to revive the economy, without any clear idea of what will work or be effective. In their haste to "do something", accountability for how the money is being spent has also been a casualty. 

But the need for more deliberation in order to be sure what we are doing and how we are spending the stimulus money is appropriate and effective, shouldn't be an excuse for inaction. If Republicans in the Senate follow the example of their colleagues in the House, they can block any action, because the Democrats, while holding a clear majority, probably don't have the 60 votes needed to cut off debate. So it is incumbent on the Republicans to come up with their own ideas of what to do (and it needs to be more than just tax cuts, tax cuts: a policy which Democrats claim has caused many of the economic difficulties we now face). In fact, according to a story on THE TENNESSEAN's web site (1/29), a national labor group is using TV ads on local cable channels to try and get Tennessee's Senators to vote for the President's plan, saying, "We need an economic recovery plan that builds America, not more tax breaks for the rich."

Despite the effort, don't look for the ads to have much impact on persuading either Senator Lamar Alexander or Senator Bob Corker. Just ask the UAW, especially about Senator Corker. J 

But something that does need to happen is that President Obama needs to step up and take more ownership in this stimulus plan. As Senator Corker said the other day, there is need for "some adult supervision" from the White House on this matter. More specifically the President needs to being willing to stand up to his own Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate to put together a bill that is more on target (with much less pork) and therefore more likely to gain bi-partisan support. The Republicans have a role to play, too. They have to resist the temptation and demands from some in their base to just say just no. This has been expressed in the phrase heard recently from some talk show hosts and others that they "hope this President fails."

The situation facing this country is just way too serious for that kind of attitude. That doesn't mean accepting whatever the Democrats want to do. It means working together and finding common ground on this stimulus bill. Everyone should remember doing nothing is not an alternative. If nothing happens, and it's because Republicans blocked legislation passing in the Senate, they are likely to be the first ones to be blamed as the economy continues to worsen. Frankly, everyone on both sides of the aisle will be blamed if something effective isn't done and soon, so that should motivation for everyone to come together (although again, old habits will be hard to break).

It's likely a conference committee of both houses will be where the real action on this stimulus plan will take place. The bill being considered by the Senate is different (and even more expensive) than the one that has passed the House. So a compromise bill is likely to be in order (if the Senate can pass something and forgo a filibuster). That's when the true test will come for this brand new Congress and this brand new Obama administration.

It is still very, very early in the term for both Congress and the President. But if they can't work together to get a more suitable stimulus bill approved, "change we can believe in" will be just so many words. And the new President and the Congress may never recover to address the many other grave issues that face our nation.              

INSIDE POLITICS

Well, it has been quite a first month of 2009 in Tennessee politics, especially on Capitol Hill in Nashville.

This week on INSIDE POLITICS we assess what's happened and what it likely still to come with the help of a panel of journalists, who are experts on state government and politics.

My guests include Joe White of WPLN, Nashville Public Radio, Ken Whitehouse of NASHVILLEPOST.COM and THE NASHVILLE CITY PAPER, along with Scott Arnold of NewsChannel5.

We'll talk about the serious budget issues facing our state (will the Obama stimulus help?), the 2010 gubernatorial race now getting underway (who's the frontrunner and where are the Democrats?), and, of course, the continuing controversy surrounding Tennessee's new Speaker of the House, Kent Williams.

Williams, a second term, back-bench Republican was elected to his new post in a shocker by House Democrats. Republicans are still trying to come to grips with what to do. That's includes controversial ethics charges brought against the new Speaker by one Republican Memphis lawmaker, Brian Kelsey, concerning two-year- old sexual harassment complaints. In a unanimous (and therefore bi-partisan vote) the House Ethics Committee has dismissed the charges, saying it doesn't really have any jurisdiction in that area.

The committee's action may seem surprising and even hypocritical to some, but the political impact of this decision seems pretty clear. If the Republican House leadership ever thought these ethics issues would grow legs and create more problems for the new Speaker, they have now clearly backed off. Maybe it was a concern of what kind of tit for tat fight they might get into with Democrats who might have their own sexual harassment issues to bring up about Republican members and on and on, back and forth.  

I suspect another reason this matter is not being pressed anymore by the GOP is because of the lawmaker, Susan Lynn, who filed the original complaint about being harassed on two separate occasions by Representative Williams. She has maintained all along that she wishes the matter be dealt with in a private way. While she appears to be upset that Speaker Williams now claims he did nothing wrong (after reportedly apologizing to her two years ago), she still doesn't seem to want to make this a public and a political spectacle.  In fact, all the publicity and controversy that has already been created by this matter becoming public put Representative Lynn in the hospital a few days ago to deal with stress related issues. That's makes her a victim a second time and I suspect it has rallied many of her fellow female lawmakers to her side, with the underlying message to everyone else on the Hill: Let this matter go unless Representative Lynn wants to press it, which she clearly doesn't.

And now there's this final bombshell surrounding this controversy. It appears Representative Kelsey has sent a text message to the new Speaker offering to drop his ethics charges in return for being appointed a committee chair (Judiciary?). Kelsey denies any wrongdoing and calls the message a "peace offering." Democrats and the Speaker are not buying that, and clearly Kelsey has completely almost all credibility in this matter.

I hope this is not a sign of what lies ahead for the rest of the term, but right now some our lawmakers seem to be acting like they are straight out of junior high or high school.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network.

Fridays (January 30).......7:00 PM.....NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50

Saturdays (January 31)....5:00 AM....NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Saturdays (January 31).....5:30 PM.....NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Sundays (February 1)........5:00 AM.....WTVF-TV NEWSCHANNEL5

Sundays (February 1).........5:00 AM......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Sundays (February 1).........12:30 PM.....NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

ENGLISH ONLY

So was anybody really surprised when the financial disclosure report was finally released on who paid for the failed English Only Metro Charter effort?

I wasn't surprised, although the fact that over 90% of the funds came from an out of state organization that has been linked by some with hate groups was probably higher amount than I thought it would be.

Too bad the money from the Virginia-based group couldn't have been spent to relieve some of the half million dollar burden taxpayers had to shoulder to pay for this election.

Now we need to change the charter and state law so that charter proposals like these (by public petition) can only be placed on the ballot if 10% of the voters from the last presidential general election sign petitions, rather than the current law that allows them to be on with 10% of any general election, which sometimes can be a ridiculously small number (just a couple of thousand signatures) because some general elections just don't attract many voters. The Presidential election always brings out a big crowd and therefore will set a more appropriate standard for the community to spend the extra money it usually requires to hold elections like these, especially if it's a special election.  

THE REST OF THE STORY

When this first came up several months ago, I called it the irresistible force (Metro Council's long-standing councilmanic courtesy policy on zoning matters) versus the immoveable object (the federal government).

The fight is over. The feds won...and Metro taxpayers lost big time.

It all began when a member of the Council convinced his colleagues to change the city's zoning code to prohibit a substance abuse treatment program from locating in his district. Lots of residents supported that move and the rest of the council went along under the long-honored tradition in the Council of councilmanic courtesy. That courtesy says if however a district council member wants to handle a land use issue, the rest of the Council goes along.

But the group, Teen Challenge, a Christian treatment program that was trying to establish the new treatment facility, did not go away quietly. It took the matter to court charging discrimination. And it got the U.S. Justice Department to intervene.

Now the lawsuit has been settled. According to an on-line article from THE TENNESSEAN's web site (1/29 by Bill Theobald), if the federal courts approve, Metro will have to rescind the zoning law change which prohibited the new facility (I think that may have already happened). In addition, the city (read taxpayers) must pay a $20,000 fine, plus $50,000 to participants in the program as well as train about 100 city employees who make zoning and land use decisions on the requirements of federal anti-discrimination laws.

I wonder if that training includes the 40 members of the Metro Council?

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