Tuesday, December 27, 2005

More on Nussle and the Minimum Wage

To add onto the previous post, it turns out that Nussle has indeed voted against the minimum wage since expressing support for it in 2000.

The vote itself is wrapped up in layers of procedural mumbo jumbo, but here's how things shook out as near as I can tell (and I could be wrong on some details):

  1. House Democrats introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage. (H.R. 2429)

  2. House Republican leadership refused to allow a vote.

  3. House Democrats proposed/tried to propose the bill as an amendment to another bill.

  4. House Republican leadership proposed legislation denying them the ability to propose that amendment. (HR 351)

  5. Jim Nussle voted to deny them that ability. (House Vote 365)

I wonder how Nussle squares this with his claims that "It is important to have a livable minimum wage." Does he think that $10,300 a year (a yearly salary at minimum wage) is livable?

Nussle & the Minimum Wage - first against, for it, against it?

{Cross posted from No Nussle blog}

This just in, Democrats & union supporters are planning to place minimum wage increase ballot initiatives up for a vote in 2006 races in key states where incumbent Republicans are showing signs of weakness. There’s a great post from SusanG over at Daily Kos detailing the initiatives. In particular, I think (and SusanG concurs) that these sort of initiatives could serve as a strong counter to Republican attempts to use ballot initiatives on marriage to drive GOP turnout efforts. According to her post (from the Boston Globe):
Last year, both minimum wage increases on state ballots won overwhelmingly. Voters in Florida and Nevada -- two states that went narrowly for Bush -- overwhelmingly supported a higher minimum wage, giving ballot measures 71 percent support in Florida and 68 percent in Nevada. (The Nevada initiative must be approved again in 2006 before it can take effect.)
Democrats say they hope to replicate Republicans' success in 2004, when ballot initiatives banning gay marriage passed in all 11 states they were offered. The initiatives were credited with boosting GOP turnout in those states.

Now, the interesting question (for me, the No Nussle “guy”, at least) is where exactly Jim Nussle stands on the minimum wage. Back in 2000 when Nussle was running for reelection against Democrat Donna Smith in Iowa’s 2nd District he had this to say in a public debate (Telegraph Herald, Oct. 27, 2000):
Nussle and Smith took turns being the first to answer questions from a panel of reporters, with an opportunity to answer once the other candidate gave their rebuttal. Given the chance to ask Nussle a question directly, Smith said Nussle played the role of a fiscal conservative when he first went to Congress but voted to give himself $ 47,000 in raises over the 10 years. "Why are you part of the problem?" she asked. "You're not taking care of the most vulnerable in the nation." Nussle answered that just before the debate he voted in favor of a minimum wage bill that passed, and said, "It is important to have a livable minimum wage."

This is kind of confusing. The way I’m reading this statement, and it seems the way Nussle spoke it, is that Nussle would support a “livable minimum wage”. It’s further muddled by a Nussle vote back in back in 1996 that increased the minimum wage to the current $5.15/hour (Telegraph Herald, May 26, 1996):
MINIMUM WAGE: The House approved, 266 for and 162 against, an amendment to raise the minimum wage from $4.25 to $4.75 an hour on July 1 and to $5.15 a year later. The 90-cent increase was added to a bill (HR 1227) that, as later sent to the Senate, continues the requirement that businesses of all sizes pay the federally required minimum wage (next issue).

A yes vote was to raise the minimum wage.
Manzullo voted no.
IOWA - Nussle voted no.
Gunderson voted yes. Klug voted no.

EXEMPTION ISSUE: The House refused, 196 for and 229 against, to exempt the nation's smallest businesses - those with gross annual sales of less than $500,000 - from having to pay the minimum wage or overtime to future hires. The amendment was offered to a bill (HR 1227) that raises the minimum wage by 90 cents to $5.15 an hour (see previous vote).

A yes vote was to exempt small businesses from having to pay the minimum wage.
Manzullo voted yes.
IOWA - Nussle voted yes.

Back in 1996 it seems that Nussle believed that a “livable minimum wage” was somewhere BELOW $5.15/hour and also believed that small businesses should be EXEMPT from paying the minimum wage to future hires. I think this could be an EXCELLENT issue for Democrats to push Nussle on during the general campaign (if he beats Vander Plaats) as well as a great issue for them to focus on during the primary. One way to keep young people in-state is to pay them well. Higher minimum wages can attract better talent to the area as well as drive consumer spending. These are factors that can help attract better paying companies to the state as well as making the state an engine of regional economic development. This is besides the fact that a living wage is a SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUE.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Nussle Holding Heating Hostage

LIHEAP is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. It's used to help provide home heating to those who otherwise couldn't afford it. With natural gas prices rising so dramatically this year, more money is needed to provide even the same level of heating as last year, nevermind population growth and a falling median family income.

Everyone in Congress recognizes this fact. But Republicans, with Nussle in the lead, have tried to use the needed funding increase to blackmail lawmakers into voting for other programs, including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and cuts to child support enforcement.

With Democrats and a few renegade Republicans standing strong and forcing some of the worst (though by no means all) of these terrible ideas out of legislation, Nussle and friends have dropped LIHEAP support too. Consequently, no additional funds have been allocated for the program.

I don't know about you, but I would rather not have a governor willing to play politics with something so essential to Iowans as heat in the winter.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Nussle, Martial Law, & The GOP Budget [how the Grinch stole Xmas edition...]

Cross posted at the No Nussle Blog...
Sorry, but this post is going to come entirely from the Center on the Budget and Policy Priorities:
Under this procedure, longstanding House rules that require at least one day between the unveiling of significant legislation and the House floor vote on that legislation are swept away. Instead, under “martial law,” the Leadership can file legislation with hundreds of pages of fine print and move immediately to debate and votes on it, before Members of Congress, the media, or the public have an opportunity to understand fully what provisions have been altered or inserted in the legislation behind closed doors. This is the procedure the Leadership hopes to use today to muscle through these bills.

Basically, what this means is that Jim Nussle and the House Republican Leadership didn't want to have a truly open and honest debate about budget priorities. Nussle didn't want to actually have to DEFEND the proposals that he was pushing through congress. More below:
The budget reconciliation conference agreement reportedly cuts a variety of programs by about $41 billion over five years. It apparently contains provisions affecting millions of Americans, including changes in Medicaid, Medicare, student loans, child support enforcement, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, the foster care program, and others. Republican leaders have been meeting behind closed doors on this far-reaching legislation. At this time, few details are available on what the legislation actually does.

One of the most controversial provisions in the Senate version of this legislation — the provision that would open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling — evidently will be moved to the defense appropriation bill. The defense appropriation bill reportedly will also include a variety of other provisions unrelated to defense that were not in either the House- or Senate-passed versions of that bill.

Although the Leadership’s schedule calls for Members of the House to have to vote on these conference reports today, the Leadership has not revealed exactly what changes have been made in the reconciliation bill or exactly what matters
are being added to the defense appropriation bill. The plan appears to be to wait until the last moment this afternoon or evening and then have the House Rules Committee report rules that will allow the conference reports to go directly to the House floor — before the public, the media, or even Members of the House themselves have an opportunity to examine the revised legislation carefully.

This arouses suspicion that some of the changes that have been made to the reconciliation bill could be presented as a major easing of certain harsh and controversial provisions of the House bill even if the reality is different. It also creates concern that some special interest provisions may have been inserted into the bill, or some special interests may otherwise have been protected, in order to secure votes.

Indeed, preliminary Congressional Budget Office estimates of the budget conference agreement that are now circulating indicate that the conferees shielded the pharmaceutical companies and eliminated the principal Senate provision that was designed to curb overpayments to managed care companies (despite a call for that provision to be enacted by Congress’ own expert advisory panel on Medicare payments), while adopting substantial increases in the co-payments and premiums that low-income Medicaid beneficiaries may be charged. The CBO cost estimates indicate that the cuts resulting from the increases in co-payments and premiums are 90 percent as large over ten years (80 percent as large over five years) as the cuts in this area in the House bill. (The Senate bill contained no Medicaid cuts aimed at low-income beneficiaries.)

Use of the martial law procedure would enable the Leadership to seek to round up the votes needed to pass the budget reconciliation bill before a full picture is available of what the bill does. House Members also may be asked to vote on the defense appropriation bill before they have the opportunity to understand fully what has been inserted into it.

What is “Martial Law”?

The House leadership is using a parliamentary gambit to evade a longstanding House rule that is supposed to ensure that this kind of obfuscation does not occur. That House rule (Rule XIII(6)(a)) provides that a resolution (called a rule) reported by the Rules Committee cannot be considered by the House on the same legislative day that the rule is reported (except by a two-thirds vote of the House). This is supposed to ensure that Members of the House and the public have at least one day to examine and analyze what is in the legislation to be considered before they have to debate and vote on it.

To maneuver around this House rule and rush the revised reconciliation bill and defense appropriation bill to a vote before they have been fully examined, the Rules Committee reported a rule (H.Res. 632) on the legislative day of Saturday, December 17, that would waive the application of Rule XIII(6)(a). Instead, it would allow the Rules Committee to wait until the last minute — and not to report the rules governing consideration of the reconciliation and defense appropriations conference reports, or to release the conference reports themselves, until immediately before debate and votes on the rules and the legislation commences. This despite the fact that the budget legislation is expected to be hundreds of pages long.

This extraordinary procedure is known as a “martial law” rule because it suspends the normal procedures and safeguards and allows the House Leadership to operate in a more authoritarian fashion. It enables the Leadership to seek to ram a bill or conference report through before the Members have the opportunity to fully understand what they are voting on. Legislation that has far-reaching implications for millions of Americans deserves to be considered under a more democratic process. Waiting until the last minute to reveal what is in these two bills, and then “spinning” or potentially mischaracterizing changes to the reconciliation bill without Members of the House or the public having an opportunity to obtain a more objective review of what the legislation does, would be unfair to Members of the House. It also would be unfair to the millions of Americans whose lives could be altered by this legislation. It would represent a step toward reducing the degree of transparency and democracy in how this country is governed and how decisions are made.

So, what does this mean about Iowa politics? First, it shows how Nussle's calls for an "independent review" of the security of Iowa's prisons is bullshit. Nussle is not a fan of "open" and "honest" government, why would he want to allow real debate on the effects of budget legislation. Well, it might just open him up to criticism from other Iowa politicians (Grassley, Harkin, & Leach) that aren't necessarily kowtowing to the fringe elements of the Republican party that push legislation that's not in Iowa's best interests. Secondly, even Nussle's opponent - Bob Vander Plaats - has been attacking the approach:
Vander Plaats called that approach reckless, saying Nussle's budget cuts spending across the board, saves pork and pet projects and puts vital programs and the most vulnerable citizens at risk. Vander Plaats also says it take no intellectual firepower to create such a budget.

Monday, December 19, 2005

MORE: Nussle & the Budget - Hawk or Chicken?

I am continually amazed at the ability of House Republicans to proclaim themselves “champions or reform” or “deficit hawks”. Really, who do they think they are fooling. The new budget passed by the House is still a bucket of pork and handouts to Big Oil and other corporate sponsors of the GOP majority. Nussle goes around touting “reform & savings” after narrowly passing the budget proposal at his desk:
The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday narrowly voted to cut $39.7 billion from federal spending over five years, including health care and other social welfare, as part of a conservative push to contain these growing programs. By a vote of 212-206, the House, at the end of a rare overnight session, approved the spending cuts, which were opposed by Democrats. "We have a plan to reform the government and achieve savings," said House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, an Iowa Republican. (12/19/05)

Now, like I always say, I’m for “reform” and “responsible” government, but that’s not what Nussle is really proposing. Cuts in Medicare/Medicaid, food stamps, and child support recovery are the programs that Nussle is targeting for “reform”…But, as an excellent post over at “Nussle Watch notes:
But no matter how draconian these measures are in a time of growing poverty and need, Jim Nussle is lying about the nature of the cuts. NONE of the provisions would reduce the virtually non-existent problem of "trafficking" or "fraud." Recent changes in the program have made it very hard to do that, namely putting benefits on an ATM-type card, called the EBT. Fraud & waste in food stamps is about a low as a governmental program can get. It's error rate is at the lowest point ever, and has declined for 6 straight years.

Instead, I think there are other areas that fraud & abuse can be squeezed out of. In particular, the Comptroller General of The United States and the General Accounting Office have a number of things they think are problems:
Comptroller General of the United States David Walker said there were three major obstacles to evaluating the latest financial statements. First, he said, there were "serious financial management problems" at the Department of Defense. Second, the federal government could not adequately account for balances between federal agencies. Lastly he criticized the government's "ineffective process" for preparing its consolidated financial statements. Walker's letter was contained in the Financial Report of the United States Government for 2005. (12/15/05)

The problem for House Republicans, though, is that if there were truly better accounting methods and a more effective process for preparing consolidated financial statements there would be no easy way to scapegoat the programs that they most favor cuts for. Plus, better accounting puts the Department of Defense and Homeland Security on the political hot seat. These are the agencies most often cited for fraud and abuse. Witness the Cunningham scandal. Maybe if we didn’t have politicians out there taking handouts from large corporate donors against the interests of their citizens…

I found an interesting little tool over at Open Secrets. Remember those votes on drilling in Alaska? Well, back in 1995 there was also debate about the importation of oil from Alaska’s North Slope as well as some discussion about the royalties that companies drilling offshore in the Gulf of Mexico were to pay to the federal government in exchange for drilling rights. Both of these involved big handouts to the oil industry. Additionally, you can clearly connect $7500 in Oil PAC contributions to Congressman Nussle in relation to these votes. Now, I’m not claiming that he was bought off or bribed or purchased, here. The thing is, the more we subsidize the “traditional” oil industry the more we discourage the move towards E-85 and E-10 Ethanol production in Iowa. If you want to see the results of the search – see them HERE

Friday, December 16, 2005

Nussle - Fundraising Watch

Cross posted from the No Nussle Blog
I thought it would be interesting to start a series on some of the donors to Nussle’s past political campaigns. The public needs to realize..it’s not just votes that determine if you are a constituent…money makes you a constituent. Those with more dollars get their interests represented. Now, I was under the impression that Nussle was running with Iowa’s interests in mind. Yet, there are some major donors to his congressional campaigns that are noticeably absent from living in the state of Iowa.

This week, I thought I’d talk about the Fieldstead Institute. Now, the Fieldstead Institute is a non-profit, charitable organization, that was founded by Howard Ahmanson Jr. to advance his philanthropic causes. He has funded some good things, such as music education programs in the O.C., but he has a tendency to fund causes that are notably on the “right” side of the Christian Fundamentalist wing of the Republican Party. For example [from wikipedia]:

- He funded the magazine Chalcedon Report, which carried an article calling for homosexuals to be stoned
- He is a major funder of the Discovery Institute, whose Center for Science and Culture opposes the theory of evolution and manages a public relations campaign promoting "intelligent design".
- He funds the Claremont Institute, a think-tank which promoted a video in which Charlton Heston praises "the God-fearing Caucasian middle class".

Now, I understand…Nussle has to appeal to his base of voting support. Makes sense politically…but the Fieldstead Institute…where is it based? Irvine, California. That’s right. California. Not western Iowa, not the suburbs of Davenport, not West Des Moines or Council Bluffs. California. Between 2001-2004 the Ahamson’s (Howard & his wife Roberta) have donated $5000 to the Nussle for Congress Committee. This is a lot of scratch for some folks from California to be investing in a congress member from Iowa. Wonder what Mr. Ahmanson has to say about the governor’s race? In 1985, Ahmanson told the Orange County Register, "My goal is the total integration of biblical law into our lives." Now there's an education policy for you. Really, don't you get it? We need new textbooks for the state. Why not purchase a bunch of Calvinist bibles? That's what Ahamson would support. He's what is called a "Calvinist Reconstructionist". He wants a biblical state. That's right - and end to the separation of church & state. What I think Nussle needs to do is take the advice of a number of other Republicans around the country - RETURN THE MONEY. Here's a list of GOP faithful who have initially received funds from Fieldstream, only later to return them:

- Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA)
- Linda Lingle (Hawaii)

One other last bit of information - that might be of interest to the Culver campaign in particular...Seems that Ahmanson has a stake in ES&S one of the large companies that is developing electronic voting systems. In particular, they are responsible for electronic voting systems in Iowa:
The Omaha, Nebraska-based company's computer systems will be responsible for counting 61 million votes this election, nearly half the total ballots cast.1 ES&S also has major contracts to provide paperless electronic voting machines in Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virgnia. The company is privately held, and its owners are uniformly conservative.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Food Stamp "trafficking" not a problem

Hi there, it's my first post here at Nussle Watch. Just a little background on myself - I work for a local hunger relief non-profit that serves 42 counties in Iowa and I spend a good deal of my time on anti-hunger advocacy. I've been at this job a little over 2 1/2 years, but if there is one thing I've learned, it's that Jim Nussle is no friend to people in poverty. Take this recent (within the last week) quote by Jim Nussle:

"In addition, the House Agriculture Committee recommended reforms to the Food Stamp program. These reforms are designed to help states reduce the practice of trafficking food stamps and other fraudulent activity. H.R. 4241 addresses this issue because every dollar we lose to food stamp trafficking is a dollar of benefits that do not reach the hungry."

Now, I've explained this before in previous posts on my blog, but I'll explain it here again. The President came out with his budget in spring of 2005, and recommended $564 million in cuts to food stamps. This would happen by cutting off 300,000 recipients (mostly children) from the program in 11 states, by removing "categorical eligibility." What that means, is that certain states have taken the option of simplifying their application process to reduce paperwork and bureaucracy, and if you automatically qualify for TANF, you automatically qualify for food stamps. The US Senate, thanks to efforts of Tom Harkin AND Chuck Grassley have voted in this year's budget to recommend $0 in cuts to food stamps. The House, on the other hand, voted to cut almost $800 million from the program. So in addition to the categorical eligibility cut, the House added some anti-immigrant provisions that were removed in 2002. No LEGAL immigrants can collect any food assistance until they have lived here for 7 years. This includes people who have been collecting, but haven't been here for 7 years.

But no matter how draconian these measures are in a time of growing poverty and need, Jim Nussle is lying about the nature of the cuts. NONE of the provisions would reduce the virtually non-existent problem of "trafficking" or "fraud." Recent changes in the program have made it very hard to do that, namely putting benefits on an ATM-type card, called the EBT. Fraud & waste in food stamps is about a low as a governmental program can get. It's error rate is at the lowest point ever, and has declined for 6 straight years.

Jim Nussle constantly sings the "fraud, waste, and abuse" tune to us advocates and the press. That's because the house proposals to cut people from food stamps for no good reason are not politically popular.

I'll let FRAC (Food Research & Action Center, one of the foremost anti-hunger advocacy organizations) answer him, because they do it well:

There is nothing in the CBO estimate that would indicate that House passed food stamp changes would help states reduce the practice of "trafficking" food stamps and other fraudulent activity. The totally independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate explains that once fully implemented 255,000 would lose eligibility for the food stamp program.

Click here for CBO estimate

"CBO estimates that about 185,000 people who would lose categorical eligibility would not be able to meet the income and asset tests for the program. On average, those individuals would lose about $45 a month in Food Stamp benefits in 2007."

"CBO estimates that an average of about 50,000 people would no longer be eligible for benefits in fiscal years in 2006 and 2007. That estimate is based on fiscal year 1996 QC data adjusted for changes in Food Stamp rules and recent immigration statistics. That number would rise to 70,000 in 2008,"

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Nussle is on the side of dead beats...

Cross-posted from No Nussle Blog

Harsh title, I know...But how else can you frame it? Jim Nussle favors tax cuts. Tax cuts deplete government revenue. Government revenue is used to pay for social programs that help the people most in need. What did Jim Nussle push through as a cut? Child support recovery. Interestingly, Bill Gluba (Democrat-Quad Cities) has finally gotten a backbone and had some fine things to say about Nussle's ideas - at a Head Start classroom nonetheless:
House Republicans have proposed $50 billion in spending cuts over five years, which Democrats say fall too heavily on the poor.

Gluba zeroed in on proposed cuts in funding for the child-support recovery program, which serves nearly 177,000 Iowa children. The changes would reduce collections in 2007 by $91 million, according to the Iowa Department of Human Services, or nearly a third of the $312 million it expects to collect that year. The state runs the program.

He said the cuts would “emasculate” the recovery unit and called the reductions immoral, particularly because Republicans are proposing $70 billion in tax cuts over five years, most of it to go to wealthier families.

People supporting the cuts, including Nussle, argue that the cuts are necessary to prevent states from "double dipping" into federal coffers for additional money. For example, the federal government provides a certain amount of funds for states to allocate for child support recovery. For every dollar the state government captures back in child support, the federal government matches a certain percentage. These are the programs that Nussle wants to cut in order to help pay for tax cuts for the most wealthy. An excellent piece over at the Center for Law and Social Policy argues that the cuts would have a TERRIBLE impact on the ability of state governments (like Iowa Rep. Nussle!) to collect on child support:
On October 26, the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives
approved a budget reconciliation package that would impose deep cuts in federal funds
used to help pay for state child support services provided to single parent families. The child support program enforces the responsibility of non-custodial parents to support their children, reducing the need for families to receive public assistance. These cuts, if implemented, would cut federal child support program funding by 40 percent, severely reducing states’ ability to collect child support for low- and moderate-income families. Congress projects that child support collections would drop by $24.1 billion over the next ten years.

According to the Center's report, the State of Iowa would stand to lose $157 Million dollars in federal support for child support recovery between 2006-2015. This doesn't even include the DECREASE in the resulting amount of child support COLLECTIONS over the same period of time. From 2006-2015 child support payments to families would be decreased by $239 Million!! Where do you think families will come up with these funds in an economy besieged by high fuel costs, rising health care costs, low paying jobs, and an economy with a stagnant minimum wage? Also, remember these programs affect CHILDREN - the innocent. Who's a compassionate conservative now?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Ames Trib on Nussle

Fantastic editorial, mostly about Nussle's call for an independent investigation. My favorite part:

Vilsack, in the end, was not without his own sting. His advice to Nussle, chairman of the House Budget Committee: Go back to trying to balance the federal budget. There's a couple billion over the wall there.

Read the whole thing.

Guest post: Catching Nussle Lying Again

Ed. note: This post originally appeared on Patriot Skull Face.

From the QCTimes.com - The Quad-City Times Newspaper:
"As an example, the food stamp program has an error rate of 7 percent, down from a previous error rate of 19 percent a couple of years ago," he said. "That was almost 20 cents on the dollar that was being wasted in food stamps," Nussle said.

A Government Accountability Office study issued in May said the combined error rate for the program - which includes underpayment and overpayment of benefits - was actually 9.9 percent in 1999 and had shrunk to 6.6 percent in 2004. Erin Seidler, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Democratic Party, said the proposed budget cuts are doing nothing to cut the deficit, noting Congress also is considering $70 billion in tax cuts."
So, Jim Nussle is claiming that food stamps should be cut this year because the program has increased its efficency. Actually, the FSP has become more efficent every year for the past six years, and now is at its best in the history of the program. This has a lot to do with the EBT cards that are used instead of the funny colored monopoly money that they used to use. But this improvement signals to Nussle that the program needs cuts. Uh, er...huh?

Nussle is lying. The cuts in the program have nothing to do with "fraud, waste, and abuse" as he wants you to think. You see, he wants you to think that no one's losing food assistance for any other reason than that they or DHS were frauds who wasted and abused taxpayer dollars. That's simply not true.

Food Stamps is an entitlement program. That means that to cut it, you either have to a) make large numbers of people inelligible, or b) reduce benefits. Since benefits are on average between 70-80 cents a meal, there isn't much room for cutting there, and that would just look too mean spirited. Nussle chose option A, but says he's cutting waste because that makes him sound like he's fiscally responsible.

Nussle is lying about the nature of the cuts so he doesn't have to face the public on the fact that he's cutting people off of a program like food stamps while giving wealthy folks $70 billion in new tax cuts.