If You're Going to Washington, BYOC (Bring Your Own Courage)

Earlier this month the government finally reopened, once again within hours of defaulting on the debt limit. I wrote about this a few weeks ago and spoke about the lack of courage from the House Speaker. The deadlock was broken only when a vote was finally called. The House of Representatives voted 285 to 144 (87 Republicans voted to reopen). In the Senate the vote was 81 to 18. Of course this is only valid until January, but I’m sure I’ll be writing more about this later.

The lack of courage I wrote about was brought into clearer focus for me a few weeks ago. I’m currently reading [Woodrow] Wilson by A. Scott Berg. Most of us know him as our 28th President but before that he was president of Princeton University and governor of New Jersey.

In November of 1912 he was elected President. On March 1, 1913 he wrote this to his successor as governor: “The rarest thing in public life is courage, and the man who has courage is marked for distinction; the man who has not is marked for extinction, and deserves submission.”

These past few weeks we’ve found a just how rare courage can be. Congressional republicans find themselves being pulled toward confrontation and away from compromise/progress/responsibility not because they fear being defeated by a democrat in the next election but because they fear being defeated by a more conservative republican in the primary.

In other words, they are putting their own job security above the good of the country. To be fair, they have a point. You can see the latest from Sarah Palin who supports replacing moderate republicans. You may remember Sarah: she ran for Vice President in 2008 and was the candidate who didn’t know that North Korea and South Korea were different nations, and couldn’t name any newspapers in Alaska.

On the other hand, really? Are there no senators or representatives who have enough of a moral compass to put the good of the nation above their own careers?

I write this against the backdrop of someone who died earlier this month: Tom Foley.

Tom died on October 18th. He represented the 5th Congressional district of Washington State from 1965 to 1995 and was Speaker of the House from 1989 to 1995. He was defeated in 1994 by George Nethercutt who ran on a platform of term limits. George argued that Tom’s 30 years in the House jaded him to the point that he was no longer representing his district but had “gone native” in Washington DC; he promised that, if elected, he would only serve 3 terms (6 years). In 2000 he announced that he “changed his mind” and ran again. He ended his House career in 2004 when he ran for Senate and lost.

We would have done better if Tom had won. He could have been the voice of reason

The Obama/Cruz Citizen Throwdown: Chapter 2

In a recent post I spoke about citizen ship issues with President Obama and Senator Cruz (R-TX).

This doesn’t happen often, but I got a response from someone I don’t know who came across this page. I’m not sure who s/he is, but his/her screen name is “Fuzz T. Was.” I’m not able to enter a dialogue, but Fuzz T. Was makes some interesting points that I hope to accurately summarize.

A person is granted citizenship by two routes: by nature and by naturalization. A naturalized citizen is granted citizenship at some point after his birth and the rules for naturalization are governed by the nation. A natural born citizen is someone for whom citizenship is automatically granted and is beyond dispute.

In the United States a person is a natural born citizen by two routes: “Jus Soli” and “Jus Sanguis.” These are Latin terms and translate to “Law of the Soil” and “Law of the Blood.” A person who is born in the United States (states, territories, and holdings) is granted citizenship by law of the soil. Since President Obama was born in Hawaii, he is a citizen by law of the soil. A person was born outside the United States can still be a citizen if one of his/her parents was born in the United States. This person is not a citizen by law of the soil, but by the law of the blood (ie, your direct blood relative). Senator Cruz is a citizen by law of the blood because even though he was born in Canada, his mother was born in the United States. Both men’s citizenship is beyond dispute.

There is a good short article at FindLaw. If I’m reading this right, you can pass citizenship to your child through law of the blood only if you are a citizen by law of the soil or a naturalized citizen. This prevents someone who isn’t a citizen from tracing back to some ancestor who was born in the U.S. even if it was several generations back. If this is true and if someone like Ted Cruz marries a non US citizen, their children wouldn’t be citizens if they are not born in the U.S.

Fuzz T. Was, thank you for giving me the chance to think more about this.

Government Shutdown Day 11: Can We Get Some Adults In the Conversation?

Since my post last week, the only thing that appears to have happened is that the concrete encasing progress has gotten harder. There is no shortage of moving parts in this drama, but allow me to focus on one issue: why Speaker Boehner won’t allow a vote on reopening the government. Earlier in the week President Obama suggested that there were enough votes in the House of Representatives to end the budget standoff. Two days ago, on October 9th, CNN agreed with this. They reported that all 200 Democrats and 19 Republicans would vote to reopen the government without conditions. That’s a simple majority and would allow the Senate to pass it and President Obama to sign it.

But the speaker won’t call a vote. Why not? OK, I can’t read the heart of another person and I’m hesitant to assign motives without knowing the reason, but let me suggest this: Speaker Boehner won’t call a vote because he knows it will reopen the government and cost him his role as Speaker of the House. There is good reason to believe that if the government reopens because of this vote, there will be enough Republicans angry with him that they will replace him as speaker.

Really? This is all about one man afraid to lose his position? And not even his job? No matter what happens he will remain the representative of Ohio’s 8th Congressional District. If he loses his position as speaker he will lose a sweet office and lots of prestige, but nothing else.

I write this against the backdrop of tragic news: On October 6th, San Diego (and all of us) lost Captain Jennifer Moreno, a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan.

Jennifer embodied the best of what it means to be an American. She chose both nursing and the United States Army because she wanted to serve. When she joined the army she (and everyone she loved) knew this day may happen despite their fervent prayers.

What nobody expected was that the $100,000 death benefit promised to her family would be delayed because of the government shutdown. Normally the family receives this benefit within 36 hours to allow them enough money to travel to Dover, Delaware to claim, transport, and bury their loved one. Fortunately Fisher House, a charity that supports military families, will cover the expenses.

Meanwhile, the government continues to be shut down because a guy from Ohio is afraid to lose his title.

President Obama and Senator Cruz: Bet You Didn't See This Coming

I’m writing this at 5:30PM (Pacific Time) on October 8, 2013. I just googled “Barack Obama Ted Cruz” and got 112,000,000 hits. This doesn’t surprise me, but yesterday I found a common link that is still making me laughing.

I podcast Fresh Air on National Public Radio. I’m addicted because I find the interviews smart, interesting, and informative. Yesterday I listened to the podcast from October 1st where Chris Matthews was interviewed; he was plugging his book Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked.

Chris worked for Tip O’Neill in the early 1980s and it’s not hard to assume his political leanings. But in his interview he made a point that I’m still thinking about.

A scary percentage of the population thinks that President Obama shouldn’t be President because he was born in Kenya. They are often called birthers and claim that since he wasn’t born in America he can’t be President.

And yet they put their blinders on and support Ted Cruz. Ted was born on December 22, 1970 in Alberta, Canada. His mother was born in the United States and his father was born in Cuba.

Is he eligible to be President? Good question. Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution says this: “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Persons be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”

In other words, nobody who has been a naturalized citizen (e.g. Henry Kissinger or Arnold Schwarzenegger) can be President, no matter how popular they may be.

But who is a “natural born citizen?” Ted Cruz can argue (and I agree with him) that he is an American citizen by virtue of being born to a mother who was born in the United States. This allows citizenship to children of military parents who serve us overseas, or parents in the diplomatic corps. This prevents Americans who serve us in other countries to have to dash home while in labor only to allow their children the privileges the rest of us take for granted.

So here’s the rub: While nobody with a brain accepts the charges of The Donald or the rest of the birthers, we don’t have to. If Ted Cruz can be President because his mother was born here, President Obama is a legitimate President because his mother was born in Kansas. Even if you don’t believe that President Obama was born in Hawaii.

Government Shut Down, Day 4: It's Officially Time to Get Angry

So how did we get here? Since October 1st the government has not granted itself the power to spend money, setting up the “government shut down” that we now face. It has meant that approximately 800,000 employees of the federal government (including my sister Lisa) cannot go to work and are not getting paid. It has meant that none of us can go to a national park like Yosemite or Yellowstone. We can’t apply for Social Security or watch the pandacam at the National Zoo.

It’s become a throwdown between members of Congress, but perhaps it bears looking at the background. The Constitution enumerates the powers of Congress in Article 1. Section 8 states that the Congress shall “have the Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Exercises, to pay the Debts and and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” Section 9 states: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.”

Since the 1921 Budget and Accounting Act, the President is required to submit a budget to Congress by February. If Congress passes the budget, it becomes law effective October 1st (the federal fiscal year is October 1st to September 30th). If they change it (ie, make amendments), it goes back to the President for his signature.

For much of the 20th Century this worked, but it began to fall apart toward the end of the century. As a matter of fact, it last worked in 1997. There is an excellent article in the Washington Post on this.

Since then, Congress has passed a series of “continuing resolutions” and “omnibus spending bills” that have continued funding of the government without ever developing a budget for federal spending. During that time Congress has passed all sorts of laws that have required them to spend money, including Medicare Part D.

During the administration of George W. Bush, federal spending increased from $1.86 trillion to $2.98 trillion. Much of it was devoted to national defense after 9/11 and his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008 he proposed the Affordable Care Act to expand health care to almost all Americans. It was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010. The Republican minority never liked this and pledged to repeal it if they had the chance. In 2012 they gained a majority in the House of Representatives but the Democrats retained the majority in the Senate and President Obama was re-elected in 2012.

Any law that is passed can be repealed, but since both the Senate and the President support the ACA, this won’t happen. The crux of the current government shut down lies in this: the Republican majority in the House of Representatives refuses to entertain a budget or pass a continuing resolution to keep the government funded unless the ACA is “defunded.” By defunding it they essentially say that whether it’s the law of the land or not, Congress will not pay for it. This has the effect of blocking the law without repealing it.

It’s a misuse of their power. Whenever Congress passes a law they make a pledge that they will pay for it, in much the same way I promise to pay for anything I charge on my credit card. By defunding a bill that was legally passed they are no better than someone who takes out a credit card with no intention of paying for what they buy.

It’s time for us to get angry and demand accountability. I understand that the Republican majority in Congress doesn’t like the ACA, but I didn’t like the Patriot Act [sic]. That doesn’t mean that I wanted Speaker Nancy Pelosi to shut down the government and put 800,000 people out of work until it was repealed.

The government needs to go back to work and the Republicans need to understand that they don’t get to hold the rest of us hostage.