Month: December 2010

The Constitution And Health Care: “Necessary And Proper” Clause At Work!

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution allows the Congress very broad authority to pass laws seen as “necessary and proper” for the “general welfare”.

Federal District Court Judge Henry Hudson of Virginia invalidated the “necessary and proper” clause in stating that the insurance mandate of the health care legislation is unconstitutional. At the same time, two other federal district court judges have upheld the insurance mandate.

The argument of the government is that failure to buy insurance passes the expenses on to the government, hospitals, and the privately insured, and that puts an unfair burden on others because of the irresponsibility of individual citizens. Also, the insurance mandate prevents discrimination by insurers against those with pre-existing medical conditions, an important part of the new legislation.

The whole controversy reverts back to the great Chief Justice John Marshall, who established the broad powers of Article 1, Section 8, in the famous McCulloch V. Maryland case of 1823, having to do with the constitutionality of the National Bank.

As Marshall wrote: “Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the Constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, are constitutional.”

The Health Care legislation will probably reach the Supreme Court in the year 2012, possibly in time for the Presidential Election of 2012, which, if won by President Obama, will surely institutionalize the Health care legislation with some fine tuning in the meantime.

Realize that the furious opposition to the Health Care legislation represents the similar reaction to the Social Security Act of 1935 and the Medicare Act of 1965, but which has been often forgotten because of the universal support of both laws over time, the basis of the safety net that makes America a more humane society, even if the opponents have worked to prevent such a situation!

Moderate Centrist Republicans In Senate May Be Crucial Voting Bloc!

It used to be that Senator John McCain of Arizona was considered a moderate, centrist Republican, but no more.

But now, there are a group of moderate, centrist Republicans who look prepared to cross party lines and sometimes back the Obama Administration, although as the year 2011 develops, we will see just how often they will be willing to do so.

With the rise of the Tea Party activists, such a decision will require courage and statesmanship, so it will be one of the most interesting political signs to watch in 2011.

Among the centrist moderates would be the following:

1. Olympia Snowe of Maine, who is likely to face a Tea Party challenger in the primary in 2012.
2. Susan Collins of Maine, who has often seemed willing to cooperate, although she tends to “drive a hard bargain” for her vote.
3. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who despite his win with early Tea Party backing in January, now seems to be moving toward the center in liberal Massachusetts, but will almost certainly face a Tea Party challenger in the primary in 2012.
4. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who has become liberated by her independent win over Joe Miller, and voted for every part of the Obama agenda during the recent Lame Duck session of Congress, and has made clear she will defy the rightward trend in her party.
5. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the most respected Republican in the Senate, usually conservative, but still with an independent streak, who faces a likely Tea Party challenge in 2012.
6. Mark Kirk of Illinois, newly elected, but already showing signs of independence, as he was defined as a moderate Republican in his years in the House of Representatives.
7. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who has shown signs of moderation in his four years in the Senate, and may face Tea Party opposition in the primary in 2012.
8. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who is moderate sounding sometimes, although he seems to work at having a right wing image at times, as well.

Along with Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, this bloc of Senators will play a likely historic role in dealing with the many domestic crises and foreign policy controversies facing the nation over the next two years!

The Census Figures And The Republican Party: Not What It Seems!

When the census figures came out a week ago, Republicans were rejoicing as the Sunbelt gained seats in the House of Representatives and in the Electoral College vote for President, but the true tale is that the growth of population does NOT favor the GOP long term, particularly if the Republicans do not adjust to the reality of immigration.

It is true that Texas and Florida gained four and two seats in the House of Representatives, along with one seat for Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, South Carolina, Utah and Washington State.

But much of the growth in population was Hispanic or Latino, and with the GOP promoting a hard line on immigration, and preventing passage of the DREAM Act for immigrant children, there is a likelihood that Hispanics will NOT vote Republican in these states, and as the voting population grows in these areas, the Democrats have a very good chance of gaining power in many of the Sunbelt states over the next decade.

Additionally, the demographics shows the suburbs of major cities, which used to be reliably Republican, no longer are. The astounding statistic is that John McCain, who had more of an open mind on immigration when he ran for the Presidency in 2008, managed to lose all of the suburban counties surrounding New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and Boston, as well as the majority of suburban counties surrounding St. Louis and Cleveland. Additionally, except for Orange Country, McCain lost all suburban counties in southern California, and won Orange County by the smallest margin of any Republican in modern times!

Women have been historically Democratic, and independents have moved in that direction, except in 2010, which is likely a blip on the map, not a trend. And even rich people and counties are more than ever moving toward the Democrats, and contributing more to the Democrats.

Not all rich people vote their pocketbook, but also vote on social issues, and the reality is that the number of “have nots” will always outnumber the “haves”, so for the GOP to work against the interests of the struggling middle class, as well as the poor, is counter productive in the long run.

So while the GOP might control redistricting in many significant states and have Governors of their party in control, trying to project a long term Republican advantage electorally is far from guaranteed!

The Evolving Supreme Court: The Dynamics Of Nine Human Beings Working Together!

The Supreme Court has undergone a lot of change in the past five years, with four appointments to the Court.

George W. Bush appointed John Roberts as Chief Justice and Samuel Alito as an Associate Justice, while Barack Obama chose Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan as Associate Justices.

Roberts has certainly made his impact as Chief Justice, and has become controversial because of his activism, which contradicts his testimony that he believed in “stare decisis”, the role of precedent in deciding whether to accept past Court decisions. Instead, Roberts has become a confrontational Chief Justice, including criticizing President Obama for attacking the revolutionary Citizens United Case of January, 2010.

Alito seemed to be quieter, but this year, he openly objected to Obama’s criticism of the Citizens United Case, and is now regarded as an outspoken conservative firebrand in the same vein as Roberts, meaning that the four conservatives on the Court are very aggressive in their advocacy. No one would ever accuse Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas as being “wallflowers” in their activist views, even though Scalia claims to be an advocate of “originalism”, interpreting the Constitution based on the actions of the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

But the liberal side of the Court has also been much more outspoken. Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, now the oldest member of the Court, is certainly willing to express her views, and Justice Stephen Breyer is seen as the intellectual leader of the liberal wing of the Court.

But even the newest Justices are making clear their liberal tendencies. Justice Sotomayor is seen by the New York Times as “guiding” the liberal wing. Sotomayor spoke up for prisoner rights, with a challenge by Justice Alito.

And Justice Elena Kagan has joined Sotomayor in what is described as a subtle shift of the Court, with Sotomayor more passionate and Kagan as a “bridge builder”, but yet seen as strengthening the liberal wing. Kagan is seen as having the ability to draw Anthony Kennedy, the truly independent member of the Court, to consider her side of the issue, much like John Paul Stevens used to be able to do that in his latter years on the Court.

What this all means is that the Supreme Court is in constant readjustment of nine human beings, with evolution of the dynamics fascinating to watch and to evaluate on a regular basis! :)

Two Landmarks Reached By American Politicians! Mayor Richard M. Daley and Senator Barbara Mikulski!

As the year 2010 nears an end, two landmarks have been reached by political officeholders.

Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago has just passed the longevity in office of his father, Richard J. Daley, who served as Mayor from 1955-1976. Son Daley will be in office a few more months until his successor, likely Rahm Emanuel, former Congressman and Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama, wins the election in February to succeed the retiring younger Daley.

Also, Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski is surpassing the record for longevity in office of the longest serving woman Senator, Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, who served 24 years in the upper body from 1948-1972, and since Mikulski has just been re-elected to a fifth six year term, she will be adding to the record daily.

Congratulations are in order for Mayor Daley and Senator Mikulski, both of whom have had a major impact on their city and the Senate, respectively!

New Statistics On Economic Mobility And Income Distribution In America Shows “The American Dream” Is A Myth! :(

New statistics demonstrate that the concept of “The American Dream”, that anyone can come from poverty to wealth is a myth, now more than ever!

According to the Organization For Economic Cooperation And Development, the average earnings for the top ten percent of Americans are 16 times that of the lowest ten percent of Americans. In Great Britain, the multiple is 8, and in Sweden it is 5.

42 percent of those in the bottom twenty percent of the economic system will never escape it, while in Great Britain, the percentage is 30, and in Sweden it is 25.

Finally, the top one percent of the population, according to this study, has 36 percent of the income, up from 22 percent in 1980. Meanwhile, the average worker has seen income only go up three percent after inflation after these thirty years!

So the idea that somehow the average American can become rich is not facing reality, particularly with the long lasting effects of the Great Recession, which is supposedly over, but is really NOT over by any means! :(

Possible Changes In Filibuster Rules And Committees In Senate, And A Proposal

The call by the Democrats in the Senate for filibuster reform makes it the center of attention for Wednesday, January 5, 2011, the only day that such reform is possible.

As the new Senate convenes, Vice President Joe Biden will preside, and the opportunity for change will be voted on.

Among the changes proposed are the following:

1. Senators could not initiate a filibuster of a bill before it reaches the floor unless they have 40 votes in favor of such action, and would have to remain on the floor to sustain the filibuster. Now an anonymous objection to a motion to proceed is enough to initiate such a filibuster.
2. Secret holds, which allow a Senator to block action on a bill or nomination anonymously, would be prevented. Any Senator who places holds would have to do so publicly.
3. Thirty hour waiting periods on motions to proceed would also be eliminated as a tactic.
4. A simple majority vote on changing Senate rules at the start of a session, rather than a two thirds majority, would be adopted.

Other Senate changes that might be voted on include:

1. Election of committee chairmen by secret ballot, instead of by affirmation unless a member objects, making committee chairmen more accountable to the other members of the committee.
2. Limitation of how many subcommittees one member can head.

Apparently, there is reluctance to make it harder to create a filibuster based on number of Senators required, with 60 Senators now needed to overcome a filibuster.

Before 1975, 67 Senators were needed to end a filibuster, and major reform was making it 60 Senators at that point.

It would seem to the author that while a minority should have the full rights to opposition, it is undemocratic to allow 41 Senators to stop action endlessly.

The author’s proposal would be to lower the threshold from 60 Senators to 55, realizing that if a candidate for public office, including the Presidency, wins 55 percent of the vote, it is considered a landslide win!

So why not lower the number for a filibuster to be overcome to 55, making it that 46 Senators would have to agree to keep a filibuster going? This still retains the right of the minority, but prevents abuse of the concept of endless debate and discussion, and prevents the kind of damage that the filibuster is now clearly seen as causing–the stoppage of often significant legislation desired by the House of Representatives and a clear cut majority of the US Senate!

The Future Presidential Library Of Barack Obama: Chicago Or Hawaii? A Solution!

With only two years down in the Obama Presidency, the debate is beginning as to where the future Obama Presidential Library should be located.

The alternatives are Honolulu, Hawaii, where Obama was born and lived in his early childhood years, or Chicago, where he he has spent the majority of his adult life, met his wife, married, had his two daughters, taught for 12 years as a adjunct law professor at the University of Chicago, and pursued his political career, and still has a home.

It is clearcut which location should be the choice, and that is Chicago by a massive margin!

Chicago is also in the middle of the country, and would be a major boon to scholars and tourists who will wish, in the future, to honor and commemorate the 44th President of the United States.

Hawaii may be the choice of Obama for vacations with his children, and his boyhood home may be there, but it is so out of the way that very few tourists or scholars would prefer it as the primary location for an Obama Presidential Library.

But a compromise to please everyone could be adopted, which would be to have the major Presidential Library in Chicago, and to have an Obama Museum and Birthplace in Hawaii.

This would be the similar compromise reached for the Gerald Ford Presidency, with his Library being at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where attended college, and the Gerald Ford Museum being in Grand Rapids, where he lived most of his life and represented the area in the United States House of Representatives.

That way, tourists who travel to Hawaii could visit the Obama Museum, but many more tourists, as well as scholars, would have the opportunity to be educated by the Obama Library in the Chicago area!

No decision will be made until a few more years pass, but the discussion and debate over the issue has unofficially begun, and the proposed solution of the author seems to be the best solution!

The Abuse Of The Filibuster By The Senate Minority: Time For Reform!

As the political year ends, the record shows that the use of the filibuster tactic by the Republican minority in the US Senate has reached an all time high.

It used to be that the filibuster was utilized by Southern Democrats opposed to the passage of civil rights legislation.

Now it is used as a weapon to stop ALL action in the Senate, with simply the threat of a filibuster preventing progress on legislation, or presidential nominees for the federal courts and other offices.

The number of motions for cloture has doubled in the past few years, and has nearly quadrupled since the 1970s and 1980s, and was used in the single digits until the 1970s.

It used to be that mounting a filibuster meant a group of Senators taking turns in speaking on the floor for hours and hours, while now just the threat stops action.

Is this proper use of the filibuster, just to say a group will mount a filibuster, and all action is paralyzed as a result?

Of course, the answer is no, so the Democratic majority and Senate President and Vice President Joe Biden will have one chance to change the rules of the Senate, on opening day of the 112th Senate on January 5, 2011.

The move to reform the filibuster is being led by junior Democrats, including Senators Tom Udall of New Mexico, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Mark Warner of Virginia. But senior Democrats, including Tom Harkin of Iowa and Carl Levin of Michigan also back the idea of reforms.

The problem is to realize that the Democrats could be in the minority in the Senate in 2013, and the desire to retain influence if they are the minority, so tinkering with the Senate rules on the filibuster, as well as other tactics, such as the ability of one Senator to use the “hold” tactic on action, must be carefully considered, so as not to reverberate on the Democrats in the future times when, inevitably, they will NOT be the majority!

The Heroes And The Goats Of The “Lame Duck” Session Of Congress

The recent “lame duck” session of Congress saw some real heroes and some real goats.

The heroes would include Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut; Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont; Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana; and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Schumer and Gillibrand used their talents and persuasive abilities to accomplish the passage of the September 11 First Responders Medical legislation. Gillibrand, particularly, became noticed as a truly courageous figure, after much doubt about her after being appointed by Governor David Paterson over more well known and prominent candidates to succeed Hillary Clinton.

Joe Lieberman proved how useful he can be, pursuing the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military with a fierceness and principle rarely seen in any Senator.

Bernie Sanders proved how wonderful a human being he is, fighting for the common people, and against the corporations and the wealthy, and his eight and a half hour filibuster was inspiring.

Richard Lugar gave evidence again that he is one of the best Senators of modern times, pushing for the START Treaty, supporting gays in the military, and being one of three Republicans to support the DREAM Act. Unfortunately, he will probably suffer a primary challenger as a result in 2012, but he is in so many ways, a Senator’s Senator, much like Ted Kennedy was in the recent past!

And Lisa Murkowksi found a new independence as a result of her tough re-election contest as an independent, and courageously supported gays in the military, the DREAM Act, and the START Treaty.

At the same time that the above Senators showed conviction and decency, the following demonstrated how disgraceful some political figures can be, and can be termed as “goats”: Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, Senator John McCain of Arizona, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, and Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

All of the above demonstrated bitterness, anger, pettiness, narrow mindedness, and extreme partisanship at a time when a group of Senators of their party actually displayed bipartisanship on the START Treaty, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ending in the military, and the September 11 First Responders Medical legislation.

So congratulations are in order for the first group of Senators above, and a chorus of boos for the second set above!