Bush Provokes Viet Nam Flashbacks For Senate Foreign Relations Committee

During the height of the Viet Nam War, the Nixon administration began secret cross-border raids into Cambodia to stem the flow of supplies into South Viet Nam. The administration denied to Congress that it was conducting such raids.

On Wednesday night, president Bush called Iraq's neighbors, Syria and Iran, onto the carpet over the flow of supplies and munitions into Iraq saying:

We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq

Senator Joseph Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, during a hearing with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, put the president on notice regarding cross-border incursions:

I believe the present authorization granted the president to use force in Iraq does not cover that, and he does need congressional authority to do that. I just want to set that marker.

House Passes Minimum Wage Hike With Veto-Proof Majority

Just hours before president Bush's address to the nation on Iraq, the House of Representatives delivered on another of Nancy Pelosi's 100 Hours initiatives. The bill easily passed on veto-proof 315-116 vote that included 82 republicans voting along with the democratic majority.

The minimum wage, under this bill, would go from $5.15 to $7.25 over the next two years. If the bill becomes law, the minimum wage hike will go as follows:

House Passes 9/11 Commission Bill With Veto-Proof Majority

Yesterday evening, the House of Representatives delivered on one of its 100 hours proposals and passed a bill to implement much of the remaining 9/11 commission recommendations. The bill passed with a veto-proof 299-128 majority including 68 Republicans.

It remains unclear as to what the bill's chances are in the Senate. With the Senate split 50-49, with one democrat hospitalized, sixteen Republican Senators would have to vote along with the Democrats to pass the bill with a veto proof majority. 10 would have to side with the democrats just to see the bill come up for a vote at all.

U.S. Enters Somalia Conflict

The global quest to kill or capture al Qaeda operatives has brought a U.S. AC-130 gunship into the Somalian civil war. The gunship virtually destroyed the village of Hayo, near the Kenya border, as it was believed that al Qaeda members responsible for the American embassy bombings were being sheltered there.

In addition to this gunship attack, elements of the U.S. Navy have established a naval cordon off the coast of Somalia in an effort to block any retreat by the Islamist rebels as they are pursued by Ethiopian backed Somali government forces.

As previously reported here, massive flooding in Somalia had precipitated a large humanitarian crisis before Ethiopia declared war and sent in troops to attack the radical Islamic factions that had seize control over much of Somalia. It can only be assumed that the fighting will have dramatically increased the scope of the humanitarian crisis. It remains to be seen what efforts will be made to assist those in need.

110th Congress First Hundred Hours Summary

When the 110th Congress begins its session today, incoming speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has an agenda for the first 100 hours of the session. Over the next two weeks, a broad range of issues of importance to the majority of Americans will be acted upon. Below is a summary, with links to more in-depth analysis from earlier apathy.net articles.

  • Draining The Swamp - a catch phrase for an agenda to improve congressional ethics. Highlights include: a ban on privately funded travel, loss of floor access to past members who are now lobbyists, 24 hours waiting period on all bills and 3 days for bills containing earmarks or limited tax benefits.
  • Minimum Wage Increase - Congress will seek to raise the minimum wage to $7.25. Analysis shows that this should increase the GDP and help save social security.
  • The 9/11 Commission - Pelosi claims that Congress will implement "all the recommendations" of the 9/11 commission. The truth here is that most things have been implemented except the calls for more direct oversight by Congress. It's no surprise Pelosi wants to implement that.
  • Medicaid Prescription Drug Program - as it stands now, the federal government is prohibited from negotiating with drug companies to get lower prices for drugs available through this program. Congress will seek to lift that restriction. Whether or not such negotiations will secure lower prices than the current system is a matter of much debate.
  • Student Loan Rates - Congress will seek to cut student loan rates in half (from 6.8% to 3.4% for Stafford loans.) The impact of such a change can be far reaching as college education can be a factor in unemployment, entitlement use and likelihood to vote.
  • Big Oil - Congress will seek to reverse one of the biggest blunders of the Clinton Administration by compelling Oil companies to pay mandated royalties on off-shore drilling revenue. The law allowing the drilling required the government to secure royalty agreements for the leases, but Clinton Administration ineptly left that requirement out of the leases. The blunder, if not fixed, will cost tax payers over 10 billion in revenue over the next 5 years.
  • Social Security - The administration's bluster about the insolvency of the Social Security trust fund is a boondoggle to justify their desire to see the money put into the stock market to jack the value of wealthy portfolios. Congress is promising to head off any efforts toward privatization on part of the administration.

100 Hours: Social Security

As part of Nancy Pelosi's legislative agenda for the 110th Congress, her "100 hours" program, she has committed to opposing any attempts to privatize social security.

To understand why this is an issue, we need to look at what has come before. president Bush has been beating the conservative drum citing false claims of impending doom vis-à-vis the social security program. His typically republican solution: take it private.

The dream of privatizing Social Security is a dream for the wealthy for two reasons: First, they fear an eventual needs assessment that may prevent them from collecting their own contributions; and, second, they want to see the funds that go into the Social Security trust fund go into the stock market instead.

On its face, the idea of not being able to collect your contributions because you're too wealthy sound disturbing. After all, it was your money. However, only wage earners contribute to social security. That's an important thing to keep in mind. Generally speaking, people do not become wealthy by working for someone else. The people fronting the argument of losing their contributions are simply pandering to the working class dream (work hard, save money, retire wealthy). It is the same sort of reasoning that gets people worked up about the estate tax. The vast majority of people subject to the estate tax at the time of their death will have been born rich in the first place. But, people want to believe they can achieve wealth and don't want it taken away.

100 Hours: Big Oil

One of the hottest issues contained on incoming speaker Nancy Pelosi's 100 Hours platform is the Oil Industry.

The American people are getting squeezed at the gas pump while the oil industry makes headlines for record profits.

During the lame-duck congress, House democrats fired a warning shot across the bow of the oil industry with a narrowly defeated bill that would have closed a legal loophole that is keeping the oil industry from paying a projected $10 billion over the next decade. That bill went down 205-207 in the republican controlled congress.

The same legislation is expected to be introduced as part of the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress later this week where it is expected to pass easily.

The problem actually dates back to the Clinton Administration which negotiated about a thousand leases for oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil companies, under the legislation that allows the drilling, are supposed to be paying royalties on revenue from those fields if oil goes over $34 a barrel (which it has been for like four years). The problem is that the Clinton Administration failed to include any such clause in the leases. The proposed legislation seeks to force the renegotiation of those leases to see the clauses put in place. It is estimated that the industry has already avoided paying billions of dollars in royalties due to the legal loophole.

100 Hours: Student Loan Rates

As part of incoming speaker Nancy Pelosi's 100 hour platform for the beginning of the 110th Congress, she is proposing to cut the interest rate on, presumably federal, Student Loans by half.

A 50% reduction would take Stafford loans down to 3.4% from 6.8% and PLUS loans down to 4.25% from 8.5%.

I'm not surprised this is being proposed. Those rates, to me, seem quite high. At those levels, a home-equity loan would be cheaper by comparison. Note: I don't think home owners can apply for these loans, but you get the idea.

To me, this seems like a no-brainer, especially when you consider the decline of American prowess in education. Trickle-down economics might not work, but trickle-down is the only way education can work. We need people to go through school, become better educated and pass that knowledge on to the next generation if the crisis of education in this country is going to be reversed.

Consider some of these points from the Bill Summary for H.R. 5150, the Reverse the Raid on Student Aid Act:

100 Hours: Medicaid Prescription Drug Program

As we wait for the opening of the 110th Congress on January 4th, here is another of Nancy Pelosi's "100 Hours" Proposals: Allow Medicaid to negotiate lower prices with drug companies.

It sounds almost ridiculous, doesn't it. The fact that Medicaid isn't permitted to negotiate prices as part of the plan borders on criminal waste. That said, let's take a closer look.

Shortly after the legislation that created the drug program passed, Senator Frist, the then Majority Leader, asked the Congressional Budget Office to examine what the price effects would be if the section that prohibits the governments direct involvement in the negotiations were removed. The C.B.O. estimated that the effects would be "negligible":

We estimate that striking that provision would have a negligible effect on federal spending because CBO estimates that substantial savings will be obtained by the private plans and that the Secretary would not be able to negotiate prices that further reduce federal spending to a significant degree. Because they will be at substantial financial risk, private plans will have strong incentives to negotiate price discounts, both to control their own costs in providing the drug benefit and to attract enrollees with low premiums and cost-sharing requirements.

Is Bush Planning War With Iran?

Recent news tells of plans of a naval build up in the gulf region as a show of force. Combine that with talk of Bush's White House considering a "surge" of troops to Iraq possibly over the objections of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and you've got to wonder what's going on in Bush's head.

CBS News broke the story of pentagon plans to make a serious build up of naval forces as a deterrent to Iranian aggression. Plans include the addition of another aircraft carrier in the gulf.

Consistent with what has been previously reported here, other sources digging into Bush's plans for Iraq, to be announced in January, have identified Bush's potential desire to "surge" the number of troops in Iraq ostensibly to secure Baghdad. When questioned about a potential surge, all four of the Joint Chiefs testifying before Congress said they were opposed to such a move.

Still, one has to wonder what is going on in Bush's head. Bush has made comments recently about the need for a long-term increase in the size of the military, but is still opposed to a draft. It all makes you wonder what could be going on in his head that makes all these actions and statements internally consistent.

When Is A Signature A Veto?

Bush has, yet again, issued a signing statement that directly contradicts sections of the law being signed. With the Democrats coming into control of congress, will this practice finally precipitate a constitutional crisis.

The signing statements relate to a law just passed by Congress that allows for the sharing of civilian nuclear technology with India -- something the U.S. hasn't done for 30 years.

In the law, Congress put in a number of requests that certain safeguards and protocols be followed. One such stipulation asked the president to report to congress annually as to whether India is cooperating with efforts to curtain Iran's nuclear ambitions. Bush's signing statement stipulates that his signing the law "does not constitute my adoption of the statements of policy (in the law) as U.S. foreign policy."

Another stipulation, which was touted as an important safeguard that makes the adoption of the law a formality of little significance, is the intention that transfers of materials to India be within the guidelines of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group. Bush's statement declares such requirements in the law to be merely "advisory."

100 Hours: The 9/11 Commission

Incoming Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has indicated a desire to implement 'all' recommendations of the 9/11 Commission during the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress. This is perhaps the most sweeping and overreaching commitment made in her platform of 100 hours initiatives.

I describe it as overreaching because many of the recommendations are outside the Congress' constitutional authority to implement. The recommendations of the commission are detailed in sections 12 and 13 of their report (link below.) Section 12 is all about foreign policy, and is, therefore, something Congress can do little about.

So, that said, let's assume she was talking about Section 13 and let's see what she can commit to there. Here are the specific bullet points of contained in Section 13.

  1. unifying strategic intelligence and operational planning against Islamist terrorists across the foreign-domestic divide with a National Counterterrorism Center;
  2. unifying the intelligence community with a new National Intelligence Director;
  3. unifying the many participants in the counterterrorism effort and their knowledge in a network-based information-sharing system that transcends traditional governmental boundaries;
  4. unifying and strengthening congressional oversight to improve quality and accountability; and
  5. strengthening the FBI and homeland defenders.

100 Hours: Minimum Wage Increase

Another part of Nancy Pelosi's promised first 100 hours of the 110th Congress is a promise to pass an increase in the minimum wage.

As I've previously mentioned on this site, I think this is overdue and perhaps should be indexed so as to avoid this fight in the future; but, in any case, the proposed legislation is likely to call for an increase to $7.25/hour.

I do not wish to rehash arguments put forth in my previous article on the topic (link below), except to point out that without an increase by 2008, anyone working full time at minimum wage will be below the poverty line.

As part of this series on the first 100 hours, I want to touch on another aspect of raising the minimum wage: GDP, Taxes and Social Security.

In states where the state minimum wage is higher than the current $5.15 federal minimum, the GDP per working-age capita is $73,369 compared to $62,671 for states at the minimum. In states with a minimum of $7.00 or higher, the GDP per working-age capita rises to $78,950.

Expect Democrats To Give Bush More Iraq Money

Early next year, as previously reported here, president Bush will go to Congress for some $100 billion to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This money, being outside the budget, goes straight to the national debt.

If you are hoping that the newly democratic congress, elected on the slogan "a new direction for Iraq," will deny the request, think again:

Senior Democrats, who take control of both houses of Congress next year, have indicated they would support additional funds for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though many want a phased Iraq withdrawal to begin in 2007.

If the extra $100 billion is approved, it would bring the total Pentagon budget for 2007 to $547 billion dollars. That figure is likely to be very close to what the entire rest of the world will spend during the same period.

100 Hours: Draining The Swamp

The first of the incoming speaker's 100 Hours initiatives is something she calls "draining the swamp" to break the connection between lobbyists and legislation. Since the election, speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi has yet, as far as I can find, to put forth specifics on this issue.

It is likely however, that whatever will be put forth will bear some resemblance to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2006, which was authored by Pelosi. That bill, which never made it through the 109th Congress despite had 162 cosponsors, calls for sweeping reforms. Here are some significant highlights:

  • Denies access to the house floor to any past member or officer who is now a registered lobbyist.
  • Bans privately funded travel by house members, delegates, officers and employees.
  • Creates an Office of Public Integrity and Office of Inspector General of the House
  • Requires that congressional travel be certified to meet certain conditions and be subject to fines for false certification