Category Archives: National

Traveling rich on your dime

Mark Greenblatt, Scripps national correspondent in DC did a nice piece highlighting how federal employees are flying first class on your dime. Come to think of it, that’s on my dime, too. The cost is staggering to me, such as a $16,000 flight that should have cost about $1,000. And that one actually fit within the rules. Another issue is just how bad the record keeping is.

Greenblat’s stories ran a couple of months ago, so I apologize for delivering this a bit late. But for me the real theater in this story comes from the DecodeDC podcast in which Greenblatt plays recordings of his conversations with federal officials. You have GOT to hear this.

Look, I understand wanting to fly first class. In 1992 I cashed in frequent flyer miles and flew first class from Salt Lake City to Raleigh, N.C. to catch a couple of Springsteen shows. When the flight was over I didn’t want to get off the plane, ever.

Contrast that experience with the one I had a few weeks ago. The company sent me to Cincinnati, for which I am grateful to the point of weirdness. I had to fly from Seattle to Chicago. For a man of my dimensions flying coach feels like being wrapped in cellophane. I was in the last row on the plane, so my seat didn’t recline, but the one in front of me did and was a few inches from my face for about four hours. Plus I was next to the window, which I like, but that seat gives you the least wiggle room. To call it “torturous” would be an insult to torture. Let’s say it was significantly unpleasant. Flying isn’t as fun as it used to be.

Deficits are not the fun they once were either, and I’m guessing the bigger issue for most people is why there appears to be such a cavalier attitude about costing the taxpayers so much more money. Anti-government types like to accuse government employees of being careless with American tax dollars and this whole story gives them ammunition. How does anyone not think of that? Maybe it’s the free booze in first class that makes it easy to forget.

Prayer on the agenda

On Monday the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 (They all seem to be 5-4 decisions these days.) that a New York town was OK in having prayers before their meetings, even if they are pretty much all Christian. To get more detail about that case you should read the AP story that ran on our site.

Monday afternoon I spoke with Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent, because Bremerton is the only local government body I know of that puts prayer on the agenda. That it would appear anywhere in this area might surprise some people, because it wasn’t long ago that a Gallup survey reported our area was the seventh least religious area in the country. That was Kitsap specifically, by the way, not just the entire Seattle area.

Lent was not much familiar with the Supreme Court decision, but in her conversation about why prayer works here she touched on some of the questions the court addressed. One of the problems in the court case was the predominance of Christian prayers. Except for one brief period last decade, prayers or other facsimiles were not heard in the New York town. Lent said in Bremerton an effort is made to spread the task around, to contact different denominations, including non-Christian ones. That’s more than the court decided was necessary.

No other local government that I am aware of opens with prayers. When I covered the Bainbridge Island City Council they didn’t even recite the pledge of allegiance and there was a bit of a dust up when one council member suggested they start. The next election ushered in folks who were not opposed to the pledge and it’s now on the agenda.

This is not to say everyone is thrilled with the prayer in Bremerton, or probably the pledge for that matter. I know several years back I knew of someone who was raising an issue with the council, someone who was as committed to atheism as some are to religion. This person, however, wasn’t interested in letting a refusal to stand for a prayer distract from the main question on this person’s agenda. It’s a case of saving battles for another day, if ever.

Lent said that to her knowledge no one has complained about Bremerton’s regular prayer.

Supreme Court ruling and the local impact

Today’s Supreme Court ruling eliminating caps on how many federal races an individual can contribute to could have an impact here if ever there is a federal race that is considered “in play.” We have not seen that in a while.

The Citizens United decision earlier had the potential of dramatically increasing the amount spent on local races for independent groups and did very little here. U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, the Gig Harbor Democrat who replaced Norm Dicks and Jay Inslee in representing the Kitsap area, did not have a particularly close race in 2012, so all that suspect money was spent elsewhere.

Today’s decision allows someone to contribute to as many House or Senate races as there are, but maintains the maximum contribution to any single race to $2,600 for the primary and another $2,600 for the general election. If someone decided to contribute in every race, it could cost more than $2.2 million. Before today the max was $48,600 per federal election cycle. The most envisioned scenario is someone giving a party, let’s say $1 million, and saying “Spend it where it’s needed.”

Parties like to spend money on races they have a chance at winning. Two years ago they didn’t see that happening here, so they didn’t spend any.

I have heard rumors about who might run against Kilmer this year, but no one has filed with the Federal Elections Commission. Meanwhile the FEC website indicates Kilmer has raised more than $1 million for the 2014 election, about $575,000 from individuals and about $419,000 from political action committees.

Kilmer issued a press release today expressing his disappointment with the Supreme Court ruling. It follows:

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The president is funny; Obamacare enrollments climb

If you haven’t seen President Barack Obama’s appearance on a spoof video interview with Zach Galifianakis, stop what you’re doing and spend the next 6 minutes and 30 seconds to watch the presidential communication norms evolve. The president appeared on the comedian’s web show, “Between Two Ferns,” in an effort to reach a target audience to generate health care enrollments.

If the White House is to be believed, the move did just what it intended. For one thing, I think most people believe the interview is genuinely funny. Obama plays a good straight man to Galifianakis’ ridiculous character, but he gets in some obviously prepared jabs, too. He’s funny. More importantly to the White House is that hits on healthcare.gov spiked after the skit was published. According to Politico, hits on the site coming directly from Funnyordie.com were around 32,000 by 6 p.m. EDT Tuesday. That’s not enrollments, but that’s where enrollments start. And it’s very likely coming from just the market health care reform supporters want.

While this does show the president venturing into new territory, it’s an evolution, not a revolution. Television itself was a revolution when John F. Kennedy bested Richard Nixon in the first televised debate in 1960. Of course, they were candidates and the tone was serious. But Nixon wasn’t so serious in September 1968 when he asked, “Sock it to me?” on Laugh In. In the Nixon video linked here George Schlatter says Nixon was trying to reach a new audience. Here’s the real clip of Nixon’s foray into comedy.

Different presidents have tried different tacks to woo new audiences or to offer a message. Jimmy Carter wore sweaters and carried suitcases. Reagan, I’m not the first to point out, was a master performer. One of my liberal friends in college used to say that Reagan, as president, was a great actor. Clinton went on MTV, which was groundbreaking at the time. He was just cool enough to do it. I can’t tell you what the Bushes did, but one of them got elected twice so he did something right. I don’t think George W. or Laura Bush would do the kind of appearances Barack and Michelle Obama have done. Their styles are different, but the Obamas are fairly well suited to take advantage of the way the media is changing. Michelle Obama had what I thought was a funny appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, because she could play within the strength of Fallon’s style. He is not the best interviewer, but he is noted for his skits, which then go viral. Again, this wasn’t just about being funny, Michelle Obama was there to pitch exercise.

In an age when many Americans get their news from The Daily Show, it’s not a bad approach to getting out the message. It may not be the ideal reality that more viewers are getting their news from a comedian than any other source, but it is the reality we have. So if a president has what it takes to enter this arena, then more power to him, and someday her.

Decode DC: Stimulus? ‘We can’t play.’

Here is an interesting story that serves as a good way to introduce you to a Washington D.C.-based news operation recently acquired by Scripps. Decode DC, a venture started by former NPR Congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook, delves into the questions I would want to try to answer if I were a reporter in DC, something I did once aspire to a few decades ago. In recent episodes Decode DC delved into the sausage-making of the State of the Union speech, the ridiculous speculation about who the frontrunners are for the 2016 presidential race and the real issues behind the extension of unemployment benefits.

In a Kitsap Sun story in 2012 we looked at the career of former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, the Belfair (but really, Bremerton) Democrat, who was retiring with accolades from folks on Capitol Hill touting Dicks’ ability to work across the aisle. Among those singing the congressman’s praises was California Republican Jerry Lewis.

When you listen to the podcast posted above, though, you’ll see that Lewis delivered the message that Republicans in early 2009 were not going to do anything to help the new president, Democrat Barack Obama. “We can’t play,” Lewis told Democrat David Obey. Not that Republicans didn’t secretly make requests, according to Obey. They just didn’t want their bosses in House leadership to know. And so you get a stimulus package that many believe was not big enough to stir as much economic activity as was needed then.

Now, this of course ignores the thought that there are many in this country who thought that the banks should not be bailed out and there should be no economic stimulus. This particular episode challenges that idea by starting from the premise that economists on both sides were saying some stimulus was needed and by showing conservative, free-market believer George W. Bush being the one asking Congress to bail out the banks. So even some conservatives were on board with the idea of government injecting itself into the economy to save the economy.

That is until a Democrat became president, overseeing two Congressional chambers also led by Democrats. You might say Republicans could afford to say “No,” because they knew Democrats would say “Yes.” This particular podcast sheds some light on what happened behind the scenes.

It also gets Obey saying something you don’t hear politicians saying very often, that many politicians in Washington are just not very bright. You’ll have to listen to hear him say why.

When new episodes post I will likely make it a regular event to post them here.

And finally, props to the suits in Cincinnati who saw fit to buy up Decode DC.

Kilmer on 2013, and your opportunity to ask a question

Derek Kilmer, Kitsap’s congressman, sent newsletter subscribers an end-of-year recap of the top 10 questions he has heard this year. Read this, but also take the time if you like to ask a question you’d like to see the congressman answer. If you’ve gone to any of the Gig Harbor Democrat’s public events you’ve heard some of the following comments, especially the one about head lice.

Since most people don’t make it out to the events, feel free to leave a question here. I’ll forward them to Kilmer in a couple weeks. I have a hunch I know one of the questions you might ask.

Here’s the Kilmer newsletter.

Over the past year I’ve sent you 23 updates about what I’ve been up to as your Representative. Since this e-newsletter will be the last of 2013, it’s going to be a little different.

I think one of the biggest problems in Washington, DC today is that some legislators aren’t listening enough to their constituents, so I’ve held 10 public town halls, four telephone town halls, and I’ve met folks from our neck of the woods at over 60 festivals, county fairs, and annual community events.

For those who haven’t had a chance to be a part of that give-and-take, let me do a rundown of the answers to some of the most common questions I received during this first year in Congress. So, with apologies to David Letterman, I give you…

THE TOP TEN ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS I GOT THIS YEAR

10.) “Is it as bad as it looks?”

This is the question I get asked more than any other. I will tell you that it’s strange to join an organization that – according to recent polls – is held in lower regard than head lice and colonoscopies.

After nearly a year on the job, I can affirm that Congress continues to be a “fixer-upper.” But I’m here because I hope to make it better.

While much of the past year has been focused on partisan games, I’m hopeful that the recent budget deal is a sign that 2014 may bring more folks from both sides of the aisle together to find solutions to our nation’s problems. If we’re going to get our economy – and this Congress – back on track, we’ve got to stop seeing folks define success as making the other political party look stupid.

9) “Yikes! That sounds frustrating. Is there any hope?”

Despite the dysfunction, there’s cause for hope.

Here’s why: there’s a growing group of folks from both parties that are committed to righting the ship.

Twice a month I participate in a meeting of the Bipartisan Working Group. It’s a group of Democrats and Republicans who are committed to working to get past the toxicity in our dialogue and find ways to work together. While the challenges facing our nation are too big to be fixed overnight, every time I walk out of those Wednesday morning meetings (and the meetings of the Problem Solvers Caucus that I’ve also become a part of), I feel confident and hopeful that we can get things back on track.

8) Speaking of working together. Does the Washington delegation work together much?

I’ve learned to watch my step around some members of the Washington delegation. Literally. Early on here, I accidently stepped on Representative Rick Larsen’s shoe and I broke it. As he hobbled around on a broken shoe for the rest of the day, I lived with the shame of having “flat-tired” one of my colleagues.

Seriously, though, we actually do interact quite frequently and quite positively. For example, Rep. Larsen and Rep. Adam Smith and I are all on the House Armed Services Committee together. Having three representatives from Washington on the committee is helpful as we work together to support our service members and ensure Washington State’s interests are protected.

What’s more, the House members from our state – Democrats and Republicans – get together for a periodic breakfast to catch up, to discuss issues facing our state, and to figure out how we can work together on some shared priorities. For instance, we’ve now had a majority of the state’s representatives become a part of the new Puget Sound Recovery Caucus I am co-chairing. We’re working together to ensure that the sales tax deduction that benefits Washington State citizens becomes a part of any tax reform proposal.

And if that’s not enough, for the nights when I’m in D.C., I actually share an apartment with our neighboring congressman (and my co-chair of the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus), Rep. Denny Heck. People are convinced that we should write a sitcom. For the record, I’m the “neat one.”

7) How’s the travel?

Not bad. Having met my wife Jennifer on an airplane back in 1996, I built up more positive airline karma than I ever deserved.

Listen, I knew when I signed up for this job that I was also signing up for a 3,000 mile commute to work. And, admittedly, I’ve learned the exact number of pretzels to expect in an Alaska Airlines pretzel package.

That said, I’m psyched to make it home nearly every weekend because it’s important I see and interact with my constituents as much as possible (not to mention my own family). Sure, that means a lot of time on a plane. But, on the bright side, I get 11 hours a week of mostly-uninterrupted work time. I get a lot of time to read policy briefings and to respond to letters from constituents. So if there’s something you think I should take a look at, email me!

6) So, did you get Norm Dicks’ office and committee assignments?

In short, no.

As you can imagine, I was somewhat bummed to find out that I wasn’t going to be the Ranking Member on the Appropriations Committee like my predecessor. (I did, however, get two great committees: Armed Services and Science, Space, and Technology).

Office designations, too, are based on seniority and then on a random drawing. Let’s just say that I had about as much success in the office lottery as I had in the recent Mega Millions drawing. Of the 435 members of Congress, I drew the 429thoffice choice.

That said, I have no complaints about my office. Not only did it come with a few tiny, furry “friends” (which has made the book House Mouse, Senate Mouse even more entertaining for my kids), we found out from the Library of Congress that it was the freshman office of Washington State legend Henry M. Jackson when he served in the House. Come visit us!

5) Any big surprises?

A few.

Prior to my tenure, Congress passed the Budget Control Act which included sequestration as a poison pill. It was meant to be so stupid that it would force Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate to work together to deal with our nation’s long-term fiscal health. Unfortunately, to my surprise, for most of the last year, Congress chose to swallow the poison pill.

Thankfully, the end of 2013 saw the passage of a budget that, while not perfect, will set aside the bulk of sequestration for the next two years and ensure we won’t have another devastating shutdown. Not only is that good news, it was a welcome surprise after a year of partisanship to see our parties work together to make some progress on the budget.

I was also surprised by the scrum for seats at the State of the Union. Some of my colleagues REALLY wanted to have a seat on the aisle so they could be on TV shaking the president’s hand. I haven’t seen that much demand for seats since the last time Taylor Swift visited the Tacoma Dome. I had a feeling it was trouble when I walked in.

4) So, what’s on Congress’s list of New Year’s Resolutions?

For me, that’s simple: I need to eat healthier, exercise more, and teach my dog Truman not to eat the furniture.

For Congress, the top of the list is fighting to extend unemployment benefits early in the New Year. A recent report by Washington State’s Employment Security Department found that 24,400 residents of our state lost their benefits on December 28 due to the failure of Congress to act. Another 37,600 Washingtonians stand to lose coverage over the course of the next six months. The impact of letting unemployment insurance benefits lapse will also prove to be yet another headwind to our economic recovery. In fact, the White House Council on Economic Advisers estimates that the failure to extend unemployment insurance benefits will cost the state of Washington 6,183 jobs.

In addition, there are some big challenges that deserve attention: a comprehensive immigration reform bill, improvements to the Affordable Care Act, comprehensive tax reform to help Main Street businesses and middle class families, actions to address climate change, and campaign finance reform.

And most importantly, Congress should resolve in 2014 to get focused on the economy. Not a single JOBS bill passed this year. I hope that changes in 2014. In fact, I’m working with a group of colleagues on the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act. Stay tuned for details as we work to get it passed.

3) What do I do if I’m not getting the help I need from a federal agency?

On my district team, we’ve got some wonderfully talented caseworkers who work every day to solve problems for the people we represent and make sure government works for you. This year alone, we’ve helped over 500 people resolve issues with government agencies and we’ve helped return over $600,000 in savings for constituents from agencies like Medicare, the VA, or the IRS. If you have an issue or know someone who does, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

2) So, are we making progress?

Despite the dysfunction in our nation’s capital, there were some policy successes. We saw the bipartisan passage of the Violence Against Women Act. Just prior to the holidays, we saw Congress pass a budget for the first time since 2009.

My focus – on the policy front and in the district – is on economic development. I spent the past decade working in economic development, and I feel strongly that a lot of the challenges facing our nation will get a lot better when people get back to work. That’s why I’ve proposed or cosponsored bills to help small businesses, to improve workforce development, and to improve our business climate. It’s why we fought (successfully!) to protect the Small Business Development Centers in our region and are actively working to responsibly increase harvest levels in the federal forests, to protect jobs at our military installations, and to give downtown revitalization a shot in the arm. I’m very hopeful that 2014 will see a greater focus by the Congress on helping our small businesses.

That’s also why I do “Kilmer at Your Company” events. As we end the year, I’ve visited with nearly five dozen companies in our district. I’ve had the opportunity to help construct a door at the Simpson facility in McCleary. I’ve visited hospitals, toured emergency rooms, or stopped by dialysis centers in every county in the district (and used a lot of hand sanitizer). I’ve slipped on some hip-waders and gotten into a cranberry bog. I’ve visited IT companies, manufacturers, and local small businesses. In each meeting, I try to get a sense of the good, the bad, and the ugly of how our employers are interacting with the federal government. I want to make sure that we’re doing all we can to see employers grow, succeed, and stay here in our region.

While there’s obviously much more to do, I’m proud that my team has accomplished a lot for folks in our region for the past year. Take a look at this “Year End Report” we put out that shows some of our efforts and accomplishments.

1.) So, overall, how’s it been?

When I first decided to run for federal office, the most common question I received was: “Why on earth would you want to serve in Congress when it’s such a mess and you have two little kids?” My answer remains the same now as it was then. “It’s because it’s a mess and I have two little kids.” Their ability to grow up in an America where there is growing educational and economic opportunity, where our nation is secure, and where there is clean air and water is important to me. But getting there requires Congress to get to work.

Being your Representative is an honor and a privilege and not a day goes by that I’m not grateful for the opportunity. I’m heading into 2014 highly motivated to get things back on track.

Let me just end by saying I’m grateful to each of you for continuing to read these updates, and for continuing to provide me with your thoughts and advice. I wish you a happy new year, and I look forward to hearing from you in the coming year.

Sincerely,

Derek

Spotlight on Patty Murray, y’all

ED NOTE: There is at least one element of the budget Congress is about to pass that is causing significant heartburn locally. Inflation guarantees for military retirees younger than 62 were reduced. Tom Philpott, whose column appears in the Kitsap Sun, addressed the issue this week.

Spotlight on Patty Murray, y’all
(Yeah, Yeah)
The press is all aghast
(Yeah, yeah)
She got a budget passed
(Yeah, yeah)
Oh yeah! Oh oh yeah.

— Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music”, as written by a reporter who happens to be wearing tennis shoes at the moment.

There would probably be no better time for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray to run for another term in the Senate. Washington’s Democratic “Mom in Tennis Shoes” is being heralded at Christmastime as the Senator who saved the holiday for many. To do it she worked with the House Republican who would have preferred to be Vice President about now. Together they crafted a budget deal, something we’ve seen scant few of in recent years.

That deal has something for everyone to dislike, for sure, but the bar is really low right now for the things we celebrate out of Congress. Murray worked as the Senate rep with House Republican Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. The deal was timed so well politically Speaker of the House John Boehner felt the moxie to knock the heads of a subgroup of Tea Party conservatives within in his own party, something lots of folks noticed.

Murray and Ryan got to a deal by working their own rooms, by keeping their negotiations out of the press spotlight, and by keeping the White House more or less out of the process. Murray had to get support from House Democrats, which was not easy particularly because of the cuts to federal retirement benefits, including for military retirees. She told them that Ryan wanted much bigger cuts, and for many of them that was at least enough to get support.

Kitsap’s congressman, Democrat Derek Kilmer, had long said Congress needed to at least get a budget done, and that was the tone he took in his comment following his vote.

“While there are parts of this budget I don’t like, I have spent the last year calling on my colleagues to set aside their partisan differences and pass a budget. I’m encouraged that Democrats and Republicans have found a way to work together, help avert a government shutdown, and halt most of the damaging across-the-board cuts that have hurt our region. Congress must now continue to work together on a plan that deals with our long-term fiscal health and grows our economy so we can get folks back to work.”

Murray’s effort has generated tons of media attention.

From CNN: Patty Murray emerges as bipartisan figure after budget deal

“Murray, a Democrat from Washington state serving her fourth term, is considered a steady hand in the Senate who shuns grandstanding and garners respect from both sides of the aisle.
“She is a liberal, but can be pragmatic and has some conservative thoughts on budget issues.”

From Politico: How Patty Murray won over Dems on budget fight

“President Barack Obama was on the phone repeatedly with Sen. Patty Murray during the high-stakes budget talks and asked how he could help.
“Murray’s response: I got this.”

From U.S. News & World Report:The Real Value of the Budget Deal

“House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a conservative Republican and his Senate counterpart, Patty Murray of Washington, a liberal Democrat, should be praised for breaking an impasse that has stymied the most basic function of a government over the last many years – adopting a budget. Even if the agreement falls short of addressing the fundamental federal budgetary challenges that confront the country’s future, and it does, it nonetheless demonstrates that two very different political philosophies can still find common cause in a polarized country and a divided Congress.”

There are naysayers about the budget bill.

From Katrina vanden Heuvel in the Washington Post: Undeserved applause for Ryan-Murray budget deal

“There’s something troubling, even farcical, about lawmakers applauding their own mediocrity, handing themselves medals of participation for showing up to work on time.”

Murray herself acknowledges the deal isn’t perfect in a column on Huffington Post, but urges the Senate to pass it so government stops “lurching from crisis to crisis,” such as another potential government shutdown. The Senate voted to end debate on Tuesday, meaning the budget bill is ready for a vote in the chamber. It only needs to a one-vote margin for approval. With 67 senators voting to end debate, bill passage seems likely.

It’s enough to make people watching politics to shine a spotlight, and to sing. I’ll spare you that and leave the singing to the experts.

We just might get a budget, ending sequestration

Derek Kilmer, Democratic congressman from these parts, was in the office last week talking about a lot of issues. Of particular import was his estimation that the House and Senate in Washington, DC will work out a budget that ends sequestration. It won’t be an overly ambitious one that settles things for years, but it would avoid another government shutdown and perhaps would not in and of itself become a campaign issue in 2014.

According to this Politico story, Patty Murray, Democratic senator from this state, has been negotiating with Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to get a deal Republicans and Democrats can live with, even if there are parts both sides will hate.

The Kitsap Caucus Reading Room Aug. 21, 2013

Real Clear Politics posted a column attempting to answer “How ‘Lawless’ is Obama?” It’s a cry conservatives have made about the president’s suspending the employer mandate for a year, some of his recess appointments and other executive actions.

The Seattle Times has a story about the state’s ad blitz on the health care exchange.

A story in The New Republic is provocatively titled, “The GOP Plan to Crush Silicon Valley,” and in it the author makes the case:

“Many people still cling to the idea that government is, without exception, a drag upon the private economy. Conservatives ‘know that when it comes to economic progress,’ Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote last year in National Review, ‘the best government philosophy is one that starts every day with the question, ‘What can we do today to get out of Americans’ way?’ ‘ They imagine the United States as a land of plucky inventor-entrepreneurs (‘We built it!’ they cry) who work out of garages and depend solely on their wits. The problem is that this vision of American inventiveness is pure myth.
“Steve Jobs, who has nearly been beatified in his role as independent businessman, excelled at designing products based on government-funded inventions.”

I invite you Kitsap Caucus readers to read and discuss.

A Washington Post blog post on The Fix shows why what’s happening now in the 2016 presidential election race matters more than you might think.

‘Washington health care costs lower for some, but not like New York’ and other stories.

I may bust your New York Times paywall limit with a couple of stories I’m going to recommend you read. I’m also recommending one from the Washington Post.

The first story deals with health care reform. If you are skeptical that any government involvement in an industry could be beneficial, I would not try to dissuade from your skepticism. The news that follows was announced by supporters of the legislation, after all. Still, could this be good news? The Times reports Health Plan Cost for New Yorkers Set to Fall 50%.

State insurance regulators say they have approved rates for 2014 that are at least 50 percent lower on average than those currently available in New York. Beginning in October, individuals in New York City who now pay $1,000 a month or more for coverage will be able to shop for health insurance for as little as $308 monthly. With federal subsidies, the cost will be even lower.

Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman in the office of Mike Kreidler, state insurance commissioner, said state officials here are encouraged by what they’re seeing from insurers, but rates would be unlikely to drop as much here as they appear to have in New York. Different states have different rules for what gets covered under health insurance programs, and Washington has about 15 times the number of people buying insurance on their own. That might be one reason. Still, state officials are encouraged. Here’s Kreidler’s statement on the subject:

“When the rate filings started coming in, we were pleasantly surprised,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “We’re not seeing the double-digit rate increases some of the insurers predicted. In some cases, people will pay the same or slightly lower for much better benefits. How much you pay will largely depend on the plan you select, your age, whether or not you smoke and where you live. People should have plenty of plans to choose from both inside the new WashingtonHealthplanfinder, Washington’s exchange, and in the regular insurance market. Premium subsidies also may be available for people buying coverage inside the exchange, depending on their income.”

Washington insurance officials will be able to comment more specifically after July 31, Marquis said.

________________________________

The second NYT story is an inside-baseball story about D.C. politics, but the players’ own admissions are stunning, if not refreshing. The U.S. Senate reached a deal that would stop Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from blowing up the chamber’s filibuster rules. The entire story is worth reading, but these three paragraphs floored me, in a good way.

The agreement came after a meeting on Monday night where 98 Senators vented for over three hours. Members of both parties admitted some culpability in the political fighting, with Democrats conceding that their headlong drive to alter the rules may have been overly aggressive.

“We’re not without sin,” said Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri.

Many Republicans admitted their efforts to hobble executive agencies by denying confirmation of their leadership was wrongheaded. “Cordray was being filibustered because we don’t like the law” that created the consumer agency, said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “That’s not a reason to deny someone their appointment. We were wrong.”

__________________________

The final story comes Al Kamen’s “In the Loop” column at the Washington Post. In case you hadn’t heard, someone pulled a prank worthy of a Porky’s (I’m dating myself here. I never saw the movie, but heard of the name gag.) movie and convinced a Bay Area TV channel of the names of the Asiana Airlines pilots involved in the crash were Asian names that when spoken should have been obvious to anyone were a joke. (I won’t put the names here. It shouldn’t be too hard to find out if you’re that curious.)

The one saving factor for the TV station was they went to the trouble of confirming the names with the National Transportation Safety Board, and someone from the NTSB did confirm it. The agency said it was an intern, one who no longer has an internship with the NTSB. Kamen writes:

Good strategy! Blaming the intern for cringe-inducing faux pas is a time-honored tradition. Interns, after all, make the perfect fall guys, with their not-always-fair reputation for cluelessness and laziness, and their status somewhere underneath the lowest rung on the Washington ladder. It’s not easy to earn respect when the most infamous alum is Monica Lewinsky.

But is it fair to turn eager young public servants into the equivalent of the dog who ate Washington’s homework? Joe Starrs, director of U.S. Summer Programs at the Fund for American Studies, which places Washington interns, said it’s an employer’s job to provide those young, inexperienced (and often unpaid) workers with guidance and a supervisor. “To throw the intern under the bus is the ultimate in abdicating responsibility,” he says.

Clean air equals tropically stormy weather; Immigration bill includes stuff that looks and smells like earmarks

Once again I’m going to refer you to two of today’s stories from the Washington Post. Pretty soon you’re going to need a subscription.

The first story details how the Clean Air Act, which has been effective at actually doing what the title suggests, has also probably led to an increase of tropical storms in the North Atlantic.

The second story is about how the Senate immigration bill has language in it calling for spending on specific products, such as Northrop Grumman radar systems and Sikorsky helicopters. This, in case you thought earmarking went away.

Sequestration hurts, but no wolves appear, according to WaPo

In science the “observer effect” supposes that the act of observing an phenomenon changes it. So it goes with a Washington Post story from Sunday with the headline “They said the sequester would be scary. Mostly, they were wrong.

The headline comes from claims made mostly by the Obama Administration of what sequestration would cause. Many of the scary things predicted have not happened. Some of it is because Congress created more flexibility than the meat cleaver that was initially part of the sequestration threat.

But U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, has said on several occasions that the technical definition of the kind of cuts made under sequestration is “dumb.” And there are people locally, civilian employees at Keyport as one example, who have felt the real impact of sequestration. And there are cuts that have happened that could take a long, long time for anyone to notice. And by that time they might have forgotten about sequestration. Here are three paragraphs from the story that show some of the impacts and the places where the government cried, “Wolf!”

“Across the government, more than 125,000 employees have been furloughed from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Internal Revenue Service, and other agencies. About 650,000 Defense Department civilians will start taking 11 unpaid days next week. Public defenders are losing up to 15 days of pay.

“In 24 cases, however, The Post’s review showed that the predictions were wrong — sequestration had not lived up to the administration’s alarms.

“That included some cases in which furloughs were threatened but then reduced or eliminated. Customs and Border Protection agents, for example, faced up to 14 unpaid days before the Department of Homeland Security shifted money around last month to avoid the furloughs.”

Other parts of the story show where government agencies have made cuts that will benefit taxpayers. There is much less of a tendency to send employees to conferences, which should certainly reduce the likelihood of seeing high-profile abuses like that of the General Services Administration $820,000 conference in Las Vegas. It also means scientists won’t meet as much.

The Post’s story’s emphasis is primarily on the fact that the widespread (It’s important to emphasize “widespread,” because 11 furlough days in my family would be calamitous to us, just not to the entire nation.) calamity predicted by sequestration has not happened. In fact, in some cases it has created effects that could prove to be positive in the long run. Another sequestration round begins in October unless Congress passes a budget. If Congress doesn’t, it’s going to be harder for those who predict disaster to find a believing audience.

Kilmer bucks his party in one vote the Washington Post counts as key

If the 2014 congressional election started today (I found a page showing incumbent Congressman Derek Kilmer has raised $15.55 so far. I’m guessing the total is actually more than that, but we have nothing official yet.) here is a campaign charge you might hear.

“Derek Kilmer has voted with his party 97 percent of the time.”

Or maybe this one:

“Derek Kilmer has voted with Nancy Pelosi nine out of 10 times.”

Both quotes are true, but they lack context. There have been 30 votes in the U.S. House of Representatives since Kilmer joined it earlier this month. Some are procedural and don’t deal with issues at all, like voting to approve Congress’ journal or to adjourn. If either of those mattered we might hear this one:

“Doc Hastings was the only Washington member of Congress with the guts to vote to adjourn.”

We’ve addressed this before, but it’s worth repeating. Context matters. Of the 30 votes taken in Congress, the two parties agreed with each other 11 times. Again, those were procedural issues. The first vote after the roll call was on who should be named House speaker. Republicans voted for John Boehner. Kilmer voted with Democrats for Nancy Pelosi. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Kilmer is a Democrat, after all, and he wanted to see his party’s leader holding the gavel. Everyone knew it wouldn’t happen and it didn’t.

On the other 19 votes, many were questions on the same issue, and Kilmer agreed with the majority in his party on all but one of them.

That one is critical. Of the 30 votes taken, two were considered “key votes” in the Washington Post vote database. One was the race for speaker. I guess I agree that one probably should be considered “key,” but not like the other one on the list of two. That was the one to suspend the debt limit until May and to suspend Congressional pay starting April 15 if there is no budget. On that one a majority of Republicans voted “Yes,” and a majority of Democrats voted “No.” Kilmer, in this case sided with Republicans. He issued a statement saying why he thought the measure was a good one.

“I believe America should pay its bills even if they were racked up before I came to DC. This plan prevents the immediate threat of default that could cause harm to our nation’s economy. Hopefully, this is the first step toward a real bipartisan effort to forge a balanced solution to our long-term fiscal challenges. This plan also forces Congress to live by the same principle that all folks in our region live by: if you don’t do your job, you shouldn’t be paid. I’m supporting this bill today because I’ve always said I’ll do what’s right for the families and employers of our region, regardless of whether it’s a Democratic or Republican idea.”

Kilmer wasn’t alone among Washington Democrats, joining fellow freshmen Denny Heck and Suzan DelBene. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Camas Republican, voted contrary to her party on the same vote.

Just as it’s almost worthless to draft statistics that include meaningless votes on procedure, it’s way too early to form conclusions on a voting record that only includes two votes that seem to matter. Nonetheless, stay tuned to the “key” votes tally and see if bipartisanship spreads.

The national debt is my debt

“It’s our country. It’s our debt. We are all responsible. We can’t just sit around waiting for government to fix this.” — Scott Soucy | Middletown, Del.

Eli Saslow at the Washington Post has a story about a guy, Scott Soucy, with a proposal to pay down the national debt. He believes each of us, including businesses, can take care of the national debt on our own. The simple explanation is you donate $1 every paycheck and businesses donate $1 for every transaction over $10. Personally, I think the paycheck proposal is easier to swallow than the business one.

There is a group looking to have a place on your tax form you can designate to donate to the debt. Before I found the site, I looked at the 1040 form and there is not a space specifically designated for that. You can give $3 to the presidential campaign fund, but not for the debt. You can send the IRS a separate check with your return if you like, but how many people are actually mailing hard copy tax forms anymore?

If you want to help pay off the debt, Pay.gov has a page, Gifts to Reduce the Public Debt, where you can donate online.

Obviously, if you’re convinced government has more of a spending problem than an income problem, you might not be motivated to do something like this. However, the fact that it’s voluntary might have some appeal even to fiscal hawks.

There are legion stories about government spending money it doesn’t have, the most glaring example being our entering a war we that didn’t cost us a single extra tax nickel now. It was the first time we ever did that. We got into debt for other wars, but we at least paid for some of each with additional taxes.

Complaining about that, though, has yet to do anything to solve the debt trouble we are in. At least Soucy is seeing the problem as his own. I think there is probably much to fault in his specific plan, but he is not waiting around for someone else to come up with a better idea. He’s taking on the challenge now and encouraging others to do the same. If 220 million other people felt that same level of accountability we might actually solve the problem.

It may come down to 220 million people like me realizing that however little blame I am willing to accept for the overall problem, I benefit from federal spending any time I cross the Manette Bridge.

According to CNN people donated nearly $8 million to pay down the debt in fiscal 2012, more than double the donations from earlier years. It’s a groundswell, but it’s far from 220 million. No wonder, then, there is little movement in solving the fiscal cliff issue. American leaders are taking their cues from us. Almost everyone involved is waiting for someone else to budge.

’47 percent’ may not matter much after all

I always suspected this about cats. This comes from sodahead.com.

Four years ago I relied much on the RealClearPolitics website to find a broad mix of stories related to the political noise of the day. Who knew that four years later the site would still be my most valued source on national issues at a time when hot sites become relics within weeks?

I found two pieces today that offer reasoned (a rare adjective these days) discussion on what Romney said. And to be clear, I believe what Romney described as “not elegantly stated” should more accurately be described as “as wrong calling a cat a fascist.” That is, the 47 percent he named, those who don’t pay income tax, are not all the “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

That said, it has opened a conversation about the fact that 47 percent don’t pay federal income taxes. And that’s where Debra Saunders is taking us when she says,

“…the result is an America in which close to half of voters can support any scheme designed to expand the scope of federal government, secure in the knowledge that they likely will not have to pay for it.”

On the flip side, it is worth discovering why there is 47 percent not paying federal income taxes. It’s not just because of the snoozy economy. Steve Chapman, in an editorial that is (I’m warning you now.) highly critical of Romney and his statement, (The title, “Romney’s Dependancy Delusion” is a clue.) explains it this way, among others:

“Since 1990, the number of people getting Social Security benefits has risen by more than a third. That’s not because the government has suddenly enlarged the program in an effort to undermine self-reliance. It’s because there are more old people.”

RCP also links a Washington Post blog post by Aaron Blake, who says the gaffe probably won’t matter in November.

Which reminds me, the Atlantic Monthly has a graph showing historical evidence that Romney’s comment will have little impact on the election’s ultimate outcome.

Boycotting anything?

Are you boycotting anything?

The nearest Chick-fil-A restaurant is 414.88 miles away in Boise. This may be a fun fact you can use if you have friends aiming to criticize you for not participating in today’s lovefest.

The event is in support of the company’s contributions to efforts to keep marriage between one man and one woman. The company’s owner disclosed that it does support those efforts. Boycotts and anti-boycotts began. Same goes on the other side for and against Amazon and Microsoft, whose leaders have contributed big money to the effort to support Referendum 74, confirming the Legislature’s move to allow gay couples to marry.

I texted a friend of mine about such a boycott. He lives in Washington and loves Chick-fil-A. I also know he supports gay marriage. I asked him if he would boycott, if such an option were available to us.

“Yeah, I would, though every purchase you make supports some cause that you’re usually aware of. Still, for a company chief to blatantly say that only his view of marriage is legitimate is insulting. I don’t want to put more money in his pocket,” he responded.

Other friends of mine posted on Facebook.

“Early dinner for Chick-fil-A day! and love that lemonade!”

“We support Chick-Fil-A!”

On the other side there is an effort to boycott General Mills products. You know, Cheerios.

A column in “The Week” questions whether boycotts work.

Your thoughts?

POTUS pool report ends on a sexy note

When there is limited press availability for certain events we resort to pool reports. It’s one occasion where competing news organizations cooperate with each other. One reporter gets assigned to cover the event and share notes with other press outlets. I loved the one we got from Thursday’s visit by President Obama. Read it and afterward I’ll share some other stuff about pool reports. Today’s report comes from Jim Brunner of the Seattle Times.

At Seattle’s Paramount Theatre, Pres. was introduced by Suzanne Black, a biology teacher at Inglemoor High School in Kenmore.

Ms. Black related how she was diagnosed in Mar. 2005 with stage 4 ovarian cancer. “Instead of writing tests or grading them I found myself facing one of the toughest of my life,” she said. After a long stint of chemotherapy she got a letter from insurer saying she’d already used about three fourths of her $1m lifetime cap of insurance benefits.

Three weeks later Obama signed the health care law, ending those caps. “So today I realized my dream of being able to say to someone who truly represents us — or as my students would say — someone who has my back President Obama – thank you.”

The President entered to a standing ovation and lengthy applause from the crowd of 2000. He called Black’s story the kind of thing you “don’t read in newspapers.” He recognized most of the Democratic electeds on hand, including “soon to be Governor Jay Inslee.”

Like in his earlier speech, the president did not lead with gay marriage – he spoke mostly of the economy and the contrast between him and Republican Mitt Romney.

Pres. introduced Romney as “a patriotic American” who has raised a “wonderful family.” POTUS said Romney should “be proud of the success he’s had as CEO of a large financial firm” — drawing snickers from the crowd. But, POTUS said, Romney assumes that when CEOs get rich “the rest of us automatically do too.”

POTUS mocked Republicans as offering nothing new “There is nothing you’ve heard from them where you said ‘man, I didn’t think of that – that’s fresh, that’s new.”

Sticking to a theme of “moving forward,” POTUS contrasted his plans to spend money on infrastructure and education with the Republicans, who he said would rather just give tax cuts to the rich.

Finally, more than 22 minutes into the speech, POTUS got to the reddest (locally raised, grass fed) meat for the liberal crowd, declaring he would not “go backwards” on health care reform and abortion rights.

And he directly endorsed Washington’s gay marriage law, taking sides in the likely Nov vote on Ref 74. Pres. told the crowd: “We are moving forward to a country where every American is treated with dignity and respect, and here in Washington you’ll have the chance to make your voice heard on the issue of making sure that everybody, regardless of sexual orientation, is treated fairly.”

Much applause ensued.

After the half-hour speech, POTUS and motorcade zipped back south on I-5 to Boeing Field, and Air Force One lifted off just after 4 p.m. for California and the fundraiser at George Clooney’s house. I am told he is an actor who is sexy.

If you’re like me, it’s the ending that got me the most. I also liked the parenthetical comment within “red meat.”

Being with the Kitsap Sun, one of the smaller press outlets in the Puget Sound region, I’ve pretty much accepted that I probably won’t be invited to be the pool reporter at something like what we had today, a sitting U.S. President campaigning or visiting the area. If he comes to Bremerton it might be different, but as much as I’d love to do it, I’m not getting the nod for anything in Seattle. We do sometimes fight for that role when there is a particular local angle, but this occasion was not one of those.

I did get an invite to go see Air Force One land and take off. I would have loved to have done that. But it would have been the equivalent of journalism tourism. I saw the plane anyway. I saw a Tweet that the plan was taxiing at Boeing so I went outside and noticed there was no air traffic. Then a single jumbo airliner rose in the sky. I could tell it was white. I couldn’t quite make out the light blue, but I think I saw it. It made a turn and looked like it was going to Clooney’s house.

And not long after that I started seeing lots of airplanes. So I’m pretty sure I saw the president fly by and I didn’t have to endure the hassle of a Secret Service security check.

Fifth Republican joins Congressional race

A fifth Republican announced today he’ll run for Congress in the 6th District.

Bill Driscoll, a former Marine who has also been in the forest products business, issued a statement saying he put $500,000 of his own money to put him even with Democrat Derek Kilmer’s “$350,000 in special interest money.” (For more about Derek Kilmer’s money, read our story from Monday.)

Driscoll’s statement says career politicians have failed, that he would focus on jobs, a strong defense, making sure veterans get the benefits they’ve been promised and balancing the federal budget.

Filing week begins May 14. The entire Driscoll statement follows:

Continue reading

One extraordinary hour on campaign finance.

Recently I was awarded a scholarship for a two-day conference in Washington, D.C. to attend classes on the ins and outs of what the Citizens United decision means for politics, and how I can find data about campaign spending in this new arena.

On Saturday, though, I got a great primer from the group at “This American Life.” As usual, the one hour provides so much information without making you feel like you were sitting in a class. It’s as entertaining as watching “Breaking Bad.” If you’re into politics at all, or you just care about your country and your government, take the hour you’ll need to listen to this.

Drew Hansen’s floor speech on Martin Luther King, Jr.

We had a story Monday on state Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, having written a book on the “I have a dream” speech and his assignment to introduce a House resolution honoring King. Here is the speech Hansen delivered, in which he states he makes the case that King’s losses offer moments as instructive as his victories.