Thursday, January 6, 2011

Who's crying now? In House, symbols change first -- Jan. 6, 2011 column


In the new Congress, Republican House Speaker John A. Boehner dabbed his eyes liberally, something his Democratic female predecessor from San Francisco never did.

House Democrats and Republicans finally agreed on something -- they love the U.S. Constitution! –- and celebrated with a bipartisan, round-robin reading.

Next, they plan to share the pain of cutting their office budgets 5 whole percent.

Isn’t political change great?

The new, Republican-controlled House gets an A on the symbolism of change. The substance? That’s another story, yet to unfold. It won’t be easy for Republicans to avoid gridlock and change how Washington actually works. The Senate and White House are controlled by Democrats.

But the atmospherics of change pervaded the theatrical debut of the 112th Congress.

In the House, slogan change accompanied regime change. “Cut and grow” replaced “pay as you go.” From now on, new spending increases are supposed to be offset by spending cuts. In the old days of the 111th Congress, spending was supposed to be offset by higher revenues, and the federal deficit soared. Is “cut and grow” real change or merely verb change?

Facts – those pesky things – interfered with orchestrated theater of change.

The Republicans’ “Pledge to America” campaign manifesto promised to slash federal spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving “at least $100 billion in the first year alone.”

The whoosh of backpedaling began almost as soon as Boehner banged his big gavel. Republicans suddenly realized that three months of the fiscal year have flown. Did they say $100 billion? Make that $50 billion. Maybe.

Health care reform – a potent campaign issue -- has come to the House to roost.

The “Pledge to America” states: “We offer a plan to repeal and replace the government takeover of health care with common sense solutions focused on lowering costs and protecting American jobs.”

Well, not exactly. House Republicans do plan a vote Jan. 12 on whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but it’s repeal-only, not repeal and reform. The Republican leadership says no changes in the bill will be allowed.

Departing White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called the House vote “a bit of huff and puff” as it has no chance of becoming law. Neither the Senate nor President Obama will go along with repeal.

Then there’s the inconvenient fact of the cost. The Congressional Budget Office said Thursday that repeal would increase the federal budget deficit by roughly $145 billion between 2012 and 2019. Add in another $80 billion to $90 billion for 2020 and 2021, and the total pricetag of repeal jumps to $230 billion. Details. Republicans disputed the numbers and vowed to march forward.
Needless to say, Democrats are watching all this closely. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee trumpeted “HYPOCRISY ALERT” this week after it asked freshman House members who ran against health care reform whether they were enrolling in the government’s health care plan. The DCCC found only four freshmen who had told news outlets they won’t take the generous insurance benefit. Most freshmen stayed mum.

Staying mum is not an easy task in this tweetful time. Which raises another question. Should hard-working taxpayers be footing the bill for members of Congress to tweet? In the spirit of savings, shouldn’t members pay for their own BlackBerrys, as many Americans do?(

On a related note, by how much have you cut your personal budget since the financial meltdown? My guess: It’s more than the 5 percent the House promises to cut its operations. Just sayin’.

In a sign of budget struggles ahead, Republicans are vowing not to allocate money for the new food safety law President Obama signed Tuesday. The Food Safety Modernization Act is the first major overhaul of the nation’s food safety laws in 90 years, and it’s aimed at preventing foodborne illnesses that sicken 48 million Americans annually.

The new law gives the Food and Drug Administration greater authority over most of the nation’s food supply, including the power to order food recalls. It also requires FDA to step up food facility inspections.

All that won’t come cheap. The measure is projected to cost $1.4 billion over five years.

Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., told The Washington Post, “No one wants anybody to get sick, and we should always strive to make sure food is safe. But the case for a $1.4 billion expenditure isn’t there.”

Proponents of the law are mobilizing for a fight.

Some things don’t change.

© 2010 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Ms. Mercer's column this week takes a dim view of the hijinks displayed by the new Congress as it gets underway. We agree with her view that it is substance not symbols that count. However, we do think the house Republicans will make a powerful effort to fulfill their campaign promises, as they get fully organized. If they don't, their tenure will be short-lived. We hope you will follow-up on this report as the ll2th moves through this session.

    Nice work, Ms. Mercer-your writing is clear, pertinent, and timely. Your column is Number One