Archive for October, 2013

Cochran Casts 12,000th Vote

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Senator Thad Cochran passed a milestone Tuesday by casting his 12,000th vote in the U.S. Senate. He is the 17th Senator in U.S. history to cast that many votes, with five of his current colleagues (if you include Vice President Joe Biden) ahead of him.

Robert C. Byrd (1959-2010) cast the most votes with 18,689 followed by Strom Thurmond (1955-2002) with 16,348 and Daniel Inouye (1963-2012) with 16,300.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel and Majority Leader Harry Reid shared remarks as recorded by the Congressional Record.

Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, our good friend, the senior Senator from Mississippi, is about to cast his 12,000th vote, a truly remarkable accomplishment by a remarkable man. He was the first Republican to be elected to the Senate from Mississippi since Reconstruction. A few years ago he was named by Time magazine as one of the 10 most effective Members of the Senate, and they called him “the quiet persuader.”

For those of you who have recently arrived at the Senate, if you have not had any dealings with Senator Cochran yet, you will find that indeed he is the quiet persuader. In fact, it may be the secret to his success.

He has had an extraordinarily accomplished career here in the Senate, and I wanted to take a few moments to congratulate him, not only on his service to his State and the Nation but to our institution.

Mr. REID. Madam President, I am sorry I am a little late here. I see my colleague, the senior Senator from Mississippi. I have had the pleasure of knowing Thad Cochran during my entire stay in Washington. He is a fine man. He has had experience in the House and the Senate, as I have. I have always appreciated his courtesies. He is just such a fine human being.

Before his election to Congress, he served honorably in the U.S. Navy. He was a lieutenant in the Navy. After his tour of duty, while attending law school at Ole Miss, Senator Cochran returned to active duty for his naval work, even while he was going to law school. After graduating from law school in 1965, he joined the very prestigious law firm Watkins & Eager in Jackson, MS, and in less than 2 years he became a partner in that law firm–which was remarkable. It speaks well for his acumen in the law and for being a nice person.

His break from public service did not last long, though. From the Navy he ran for Congress in 1972 and served in the House for 6 years before running for the Senate. He served as Chairman of the Republican Conference, the Agriculture Committee, and the Appropriations Committee.

Throughout his time in Congress, Senator Cochran has promoted the best interests of Mississippi’s citizens. Even when we were on different sides of the issues, I always respected Senator Cochran’s service to his country, his dedication to the people of Mississippi and to the people of this country. I congratulate him on this impressive milestone and appreciate most of all his friendship.

Moments like this are not large policy or political events, but a time when the Senate as an institution recognizes the decades of service a member has given to his state, country and the Senate body.

Cochran’s 12,000th vote was on the nomination of Richard F. Griffin, Jr., of the District of Columbia, to be General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board. Cochran voted no.

Marshall County’s censure: the rest of the story

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

The Marshall County Republican Party passed a resolution criticizing Senator Thad Cochran. The cut-and-paste document based on one from South Carolina came at a convenient time for a potential Tea Party styled challenge in a primary by Chris McDaniel. Cochran has not said he would run again, but the document clearly wants Cochran to no longer be U.S. Senator as it says:

That this body takes this action and adopts this Resolution in full confidence in its own good faith, with no personal animosity or ill will to the supporters of Thad Cochran or to Thad Cochran himself, to whom this body extends its hand in friendship and warmly looks forward to his rejoining us as private citizen of the State of Mississippi.

The similar resolution against Senator Roger Wicker had no comments about him returning to the private sector because while Cochran is up for reelection next year, Wicker doesn’t have a race until 2018.

The Marshall County GOP took some shots at Cochran’s votes. But there are two sides to every story and here is the rest of the story on those votes. I can’t take credit for all this material, others have looked at these issues and provided some answers. But here is some information on the votes Marshall County criticized:

1. Voted to fund Obamacare: In September of 2013, after Republican Senator Cruz’s bulwark stand against funding Obamacare, Mississippi Senator Cochran embarrassed our party and state by voting for cloture, knowing a 3/5 majority was needed to bring it to a vote. This tactic is a sleight-of-hand, handing over the ability to pass the legislation with a simple majority vote to the Democrats, while claiming opposition to the legislation by voting against it.

This was a tactical disagreement among Republicans with no ideological inclination. To believe Marshall County’s attack, you have to believe that secretly, Thad Cochran supports the funding of Obamacare. If you don’t believe that, then this criticism is hot air.

The majority of Senate Republicans supported ending debate on a FY2014 continuing resolution that actually defunded “Obamacare” which was supported by House Republicans. Once cloture was invoked, Cochran voted against stripping defunding provisions from the CR, and then voted against passage of the CR, which included funding of Obamacare restored by the Senate Democratic majority.

Cochran voted to defund Obamacare, voted against stripping the defunding of Obamacare, and then voted against the bill that funded Obamacare.

Cochran has voted at every opportunity to get rid of Obamacare. On the Appropriations Committee, Cochran voted against every appropriations bill that included funding for Obamacare since the law was passed. This CR has not been enacted and the federal government is shut down, yet Obamacare implementation has still gone on without any FY2014 funding.

The Cruz strategy failed because Republicans do not control the Senate or the White House. The shutdown took focus off Obamacare’s many problems and its miserable roll-out and has thus set back efforts to repeal and replace the law.

2. Voted to increase the debt limit without any restraints: In May of 2013 Senator Cochran voted in opposition to his party to allow the Treasury Department to borrow as much as it needed to pay its bills over the next four months without an accompanied proportional decrease in federal spending in order to address the ever-increasing federal debt.

So in the first criticism, Cochran was attacked for voting with the majority of his party and in the second criticism, Cochran was attacked for voting against the majority of his party (along with many Republicans). I guess Marshall County can’t make up their mind on what they want someone to do.

The legislation they mentioned suspended the debt ceiling for a short period to allow the government to pay bills it already owed. The bill also provided for the suspension of paychecks for lawmakers if they didn’t pass a budget. This legislation compelled the Senate to debate and pass a budget for the first time in four years.

3. Supported massive new internet sales tax: In May of 2013, Cochran joined Democrats in voting to pass a massive new internet sales tax with burdensome reporting requirements. Most Republican senators opposed the bill, including the Republican Governor of Mississippi. Requiring online retailers to collect sales taxes from numerous states would pose onerous burdens to small businesses and hinder economic growth which is in opposition to the Republican Party Platform of Mississippi.

This legislation did not create a new tax. The tax already existed. This legislation provided states’ rights to collect sales taxes they are already owed under current law. Every American who purchases a product or service online is required to pay taxes on it. Those in favor of the legislation argued that traditional Mississippi businesses were at a competitive disadvantage because their customers paid taxes while their competitors online were not charging taxes. Governor Phil Bryant, former Governor Haley Barbour, Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn and others supported being given this flexibility and made their positions clear to the Cochran and others in the Mississippi delegation. Furthermore, the legislation has not even passed yet. It is sitting in the House Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial And Antitrust Law.

4. Voted to continue deficit spending that would fund Obamacare: In March of 2013, Senator Cochran voted in favor of an amended version of the bill containing the Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year. The bill still funded Obamacare, and continued to maintain the same levels of deficit spending.

This matter was a FY2013 continuing resolution that prevented a government shutdown in March. Cochran was one of 20 Republican Senators who supported this bill. The appropriations bills were consistent with the terms of the Budget Control Act to reduce discretionary spending by $2 trillion over 10 years ($85 billion in FY2013 alone). The BCA is the only substantial piece of deficit reduction legislation enacted in recent years. Cochran supported the BCA.

Obamacare is funded primarily through mandatory spending and is affected very little by the annual appropriations process. Obamacare is still very much in effect in the absence of a FY2014 CR today. Killing this FY2013 bill would have only 1) shut down the government 2) allowed Obamacare to go forward and 3) abdicated the legislative branch’s primary check on President Obama: the power of the purse. This bill contained 5 of the 12 appropriations bills, including the FY13 Defense Appropriations Bill, and therefore contained Republican input whereas a “clean” CR would have contained no Republican input. The Republican controlled House also passed this bill (Republicans supported 203-27) before the false notion of some ability to successfully “defund Obamacare” was en vogue.

5. Supported Obama’s drone program against American citizens: In March of 2013, when Republican Senator Rand Paul bravely stood up to the White House to seek reassurances that drone strikes would not be used on American soil in contravention of the Constitution, Senator Cochran chose to not support the filibuster.

RIGHT. Senator Thad Cochran supports the use of drones against American citizens on American soil. And the evidence is clear and convincing. The proof? Cochran did not speak on the matter on the Senate floor with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. Perhaps Cochran also supports selling Nevada to the Chinese, launching a nuclear strike against our enemies on Mars, and hosting a national bake sale to retire the debt. Why does he support those things? Well, obviously, because he has not spoken against them on the Senate floor.

Senator Rand Paul ended his filibuster of CIA nominee John Brennan when Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a letter saying that drone strikes would not be used on American soil. Senators Cochran and Wicker voted to continue the filibuster of the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA (Cloture Vote on Brennan Confirmation).

6. Voted to fund 50.5 Billion for Super Storm Sandy: In January of 2013, Senator Cochran voted to federally fund disaster relief. This bill was unconstitutional and this funding was not for acute disaster relief, rather it acted as a stimulus. Senator Cochran voted with the Democrats in opposition to most of his own party. Further, in opposition to his own party, he rejected an amendment that would offset the costs added to the federal deficit.

Again, when Tea Party types vote against their party they are patriots. But when Cochran votes against his party, he deserves criticism. The hypocritical double-standard is mind blowing.

There is a legitimate debate among Republicans in the role of federal disaster relief. But there are a lot of cities, towns, counties, businesses and citizens on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that are thankful for disaster relief – especially after Hurricane Katrina – of which Cochran deserves the credit. I imagine that weighed on Cochran’s mind in this decision. But Cochran has not advocated a blank check for recovery. He has authored legislative provisions to reform disaster recovery practices to make them more flexible, efficient and fair for local communities. These reforms save taxpayer dollars in future disaster recovery efforts. A list of these reforms can be found here.

7. Continue fiscally irresponsible federal spending: In September of 2012, Senator Cochran voted with the Democrats and in opposition to most of his own party to continue a mammoth resolution which provided a way for Congress to perpetuate its fiscally irresponsible, unconstitutional spending habits with a minimum of accountability to its constituents.

Again, Cochran voted with many other Republicans. This was a six-month FY13 CR (October 2012-March 2013) to prevent a government shutdown, like the current shutdown. Obamacare is funded primarily through mandatory spending and is affected very little by the annual appropriations process. Obamacare is still very much in effect in the absence of a CR today. Killing this bill would have only 1) shut down the government 2) allowed Obamacare to go forward anyway. Cochran voted against the FY2013 HHS and IRS funding bills in the Appropriations Committee due to their inclusion of funding for Obamacare.

8. Supported Federal Government ownership of 30% of the land within the United States: In June of 2012, Thad Cochran voted nay to repealing the Forest Legacy Program which uses taxpayer money to pay landowners to not develop their land. This federal program discourages economic growth. The Constitution does not grant Congress the legislative power to acquire ownership of conservation easement rights over large tracts of land within the states.

In case you’re wondering, here is a map of federal land in the U.S. It is quite amazing.

Conservation programs are a legitimate debate. But the Republican Party has a long tradition in seeking conservation policies (consider President Teddy Roosevelt) and those interested in a conservative perspective should examine the “Crunchy-Con” movement.

The program isn’t aimed at discouraging economic growth. These are landowners who want to preserve their natural lands and important forests which can still be used for hunting, fishing, outdoor recreation and other land use. They are private lands that remain in private hands.

As for Cochran, when Senate Amendment 2314 to S. 3240 (Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012 or Farm Bill) lost on an 84-15 vote, the only other option was to repeal conservation programs. Cochran voted to continue the conservation programs that give farmers and landowners voluntary options regarding the use of their lands.

9. Supported Energy Tax Subsidies and an elevated corporate tax rate: In March of 2012, and in opposition to a majority of his party, including Senator Wicker, Senator Cochran voted to reject an amendment that would eliminate many tax subsidies which distort the free market by picking winners and losers. In addition, he rejected an amendment that would lower the U.S. Corporate tax rate, which is currently the highest in the industrialized world and is one of the major reasons that many companies choose to locate their businesses abroad.

It seems Marshall County gets to pick and choose when to support and when to oppose items based on parliamentary procedure. It is one way with Obamacare and another way this issue. Cochran supports reducing the number of deductions and exemptions in the tax code to lower rates, but this amendment was one Senator’s idea without any committee process for review, discussion and modification, then it was offered not to a tax reform bill, but to a highway/transportation bill.

10. Supported giving taxpayer money to international organizations: In March of 2012, on the issue of providing funding for the Export-Import Bank, Senator Cochran voted to reauthorize the U.S. Export-Import Bank for two years and increase the agency’s lending cap from $100 billion to $140 billion. In opposition to the Republican Party Platform to uphold the principles of free enterprise and an economy free of government manipulation, Senator Cochran voted for the U.S. Government to back export financing, a form of corporate welfare which placed taxpayers on the hook should there be a default.

The Export-Import Bank operates at no cost to taxpayers and has been self-sustaining (in regards to federal appropriations) since FY2008 and has given the U.S. Treasury $4.9 billion since 1990. Authorization and appropriation are very different things. The legislation in question levels the playing field for American job creators (businesses) in competition with foreign subsidized private industries. The measure passed in the Republican-controlled House 330-93 (House Republicans supported 147-93).

11. Voted to keep earmarks: In Feb 2012, in opposition to his party, Senator Cochran voted with Democrats to defeat an amendment to the Stock Act that would eliminate earmarks. Further, Senator Cochran was the leading senator for earmarks in 2010.

We got rid of earmarks. Now President Barack Obama’s administration determines where and how money is spent instead of our Mississippi U.S. Representatives and Senators. And spending has not decreased. So that worked great, right?

Earmarks are Constitutional. The Constitution vests the power to withdraw funds from the treasury in Congressional appropriations. Eliminating earmarks abdicated legislative direction of those appropriations. The Founders intended Congress to oversee the spending of taxpayer dollars, and earmarks provided a vehicle for the responsibility.

Earmarks create accountable spending. Conservatives believe better government is more accountable to voters. Earmarks put government funding in the hands of Representatives and Senators, the former face the voters in a 700,000-person district every two years – twice the frequency of a President who oversees federal agencies and who faces nearly 300 million people every four years. Congress required legislators to sign their name to each earmark request. Earmarks made government spending accountable to voters. Eliminating earmarks promoted abuse by removing the consequences of bad spending from voter oversight.

Earmarks are responsive to local needs. Conservatives believe better government is closer to the people. Who requested earmarks? Mayors, supervisors, sheriffs and other local officials to address local needs. Earmarks paid for county hospitals, bridges and roads, public buildings – lots of things people use every day. It isn’t like Cochran and others had money they were begging people to take – local officials asked for help.

Earmarks are more efficiently used. Conservatives believe smaller government is better than bigger government. Rather than a slow, bulky, overhead-heavy agency spending our tax dollars in Washington DC, we prefer money sent back to states and localities in the form of block grants to be used most efficiently on the local level. Earmarks are little more than legislatively directed block grants.

I believe government is too big: it takes too many of our taxpayer dollars, it immorally wastes those dollars, and when the money should be spent, it does so ineffectively. But the answer to these problems was not the elimination of earmarks which were Constitutional, accountable to voters, responsive to local needs, and used more efficiently by receivers.

Killing earmarks provided President Obama with a “blank check” so that he can decide which priorities are funded and which are not instead of our Mississippi congressmen and senators. Just look at the recent decisions to close the WWII memorial and other Administration actions during the shutdown where Congress left itself without leverage in determining which programs and functions of government should be prioritized as essential.

12. Opposed principled application of free trade policies: In October of 2011, on the issue of granting the Treasury Department additional power to raise tariffs on international trade with China, Senator Cochran joined with the Democrats and voted for it.

I believe in free trade, but this measure was about balancing against China’s currency manipulation. It defined currency misalignment as an unfair subsidy for exports (already prohibited by the International Monetary Fund). Declaring currency misalignment an unfair subsidy allows American companies to petition the Department of Commerce for an investigation, their right for pursuing anti-dumping remedies. It creates a framework for the U.S. Treasury Department to identify misaligned currencies and confront trading partners to address these problems. This is a challenge to China’s manipulation of its currency against the U.S. dollar and has a direct impact on U.S. economic security. China’s currency policy is intended to make the items we buy from them cost more, while they pay less for what they buy for us – creating an increased trade deficit and U.S. job losses. The bill passed the Senate, 63-35, but was not acted on by the House.

Marshall County GOP’s copy & paste censure

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

The leaders of the Marshall County Republican Party surely believe no one can tell them who to support or who to oppose.  They are their own organization and if they want to censure Senator Thad Cochran and Senator Roger Wicker, two of the top leaders of their own party, they aren’t going to take gruff from anyone else. They’re independent, you see.  They make up their own minds. They aren’t just an arm of some establishment group.

No, but they appear to be an arm of the anti-establishment group.

Their recent censure of Cochran and Wicker appears very similar to the Chesterfield County, South Carolina Republican Party’s censure of Senator Lindsey Graham.  How similar? Well the “whereas” and “therefore” sections are nearly identical with the changes being who is doing the criticism and who is being criticized.

Here is the Marshall County resolution.

Here is the Chesterfield County resolution.

It seems like the Marshall County GOP is saying to the Mississippi Republican leadership, “We’re not going to do what you tell us to do. We’re going to do what THEY tell us to do.” The censure appears to be a manufactured effort by those opposed to incumbent Republicans.

It is interesting the votes cited by each of these resolutions are different, but the conclusions are the same. I guess it isn’t really the votes that make the difference; they will find the votes to support the conclusions they already have reached.

Y’all Politics has more on this story.

Candidates for House 5, 55, 110 special elections set

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Yesterday was the qualifying deadline for candidates in the special elections for Mississippi House of Representatives seats in Districts 5, 55, 110. The State Board of Elections Commissioners will review the candidate’s qualifications before approving the final ballots.

The special election will be held on November 5 and if necessary, a run-off election will be held on November 26. Special elections are nonpartisan although all three seats were formerly held by Democrats and are expected to be held by Democrats following these elections.

Each vacancy is the result of a legislator running for and winning election as mayor of his respective hometown necessitating resignation from the legislature: Kelvin Buck in Holly Springs (Dist. 5), George Flaggs Jr. in Vicksburg (Dist. 55) and Billy Broomfield in Moss Point (Dist. 110).

Here is the lineup, 17 candidates in all:

District 5 (Benton, Marshall Counties)

Daylon Cannon
Andre’ R. De’Berry
Arthur “Clyde” Ellzey
John Gary Faulkner
Lee Edward Gill
Jacqueline Simon
Robert Earl Young

District 55 (Warren County)

Oscar Denton
Chris Green
Andrew W. Harrell
Marie Thompson
Joseph E. Williams, Jr.

District 110 (Jackson County)
Jeramey Anderson
Tyres Autrey
Mitch Ellerby
Aneice R. Liddell
Anne’ A. McMillion

Going Coastal at the WWII Memorial

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Yesterday when Republican Congressman Steven Palazzo and others moved the barricades so Mississippi World War II veterans could visit their memorial on the National Mall, it occurred to me this was exactly the type of thing Palazzo’s predecessor, Democrat Gene Taylor, would have done.

The adjective frequently used for Taylor’s politics was “maverick.” Whether conducting a fact-finding mission incognito to Vieques, helping the Coast Guard rescue Katrina victims, camping in a tent at the U.S. Capitol to protest housing policy after Katrina, living in his Capitol Office, calling on then President Bill Clinton to resign, voting for John McCain over Barack Obama, or saying the Mississippi state flag suited him just fine while his party’s governor was campaigning to change it - Taylor did things his own way. Had Taylor been the congressman yesterday who moved the barricades, politicos would be saying “that’s why people love Gene Taylor and he won’t be beat.” But Taylor’s vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House made the difference and he was beaten in 2010 by Palazzo.

So now it is Palazzo going Coastal on Washington, DC, and rightfully so he is receiving credit.

Frank Corder at Y’all Politics writes:

Palazzo may not realize it but moving that barricade just secured him a third term and may have solidified his seat for a while.

Todd Starnes of Fox News & Commentary posts a glowing account of the event, and Palazzo:

Nevertheless, the good people of Mississippi’s Fourth Congressional District should hold their heads high. They were well served by their representative – a man willing to go to jail to defend the honor of the Greatest Generation. Rep. Palazzo – you are a great American. And should you need bail money, give me a call.

My own column this week, written before the incident, highlights Palazzo’s conservative credentials and notes:

Currently, Palazzo is airing a campaign radio commercial across his district saying he is leading the fight to end Obamacare, noting he has voted over 40 times to “repeal, replace, delay and dismantle Obamacare. Now Steven is fighting to defund it” and urges listeners to visit his web site and sign a petition for defunding.

In his most recent campaign finance filing, Palazzo posted over $400,000 cash-on-hand. Combined with his early campaign effort, consistent opposition to Obamacare, and rapid response to political issues (like opposing nuclear storage/reprocessing), critics contemplating a primary challenge may find Palazzo stronger than they anticipate.

As I mentioned yesterday, Palazzo asked President Barack Obama to make an exception for these veterans. Published reports say the White House refused.

So Palazzo did it his way; it is what Gene Taylor would have done; it is what the folks in Mississippi’s Fourth District expect from their congressman; and now the whole country is applauding the veterans and the actions of Mississippi’s congressional delegation when they take the maverick spirit of South Mississippi to Washington DC and go Coastal on the National Mall.

Palazzo said he would ensure WWII vets make it to Memorial; he did

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Yesterday, Congressman Steven Palazzo wrote President Barack Obama to request he “immediately instruct the Department of Interior and National Park Service that veterans are not denied access to monuments on the National Mall in the event of a government shutdown.” (Read his letter here.)

In a release on Monday, Palazzo said:

Mississippi  veterans are still planning to travel to Washington tomorrow to see their Memorial, and I still plan to be there to greet them. I’m going to do everything in my power to ensure these World War II veterans have access to their Memorial.

Palazzo stood by that promise.

I’ve not heard if the President responded. But today, when World War II veterans showed up from Mississippi, Palazzo - along with Senator Roger Wicker and Congressmen Alan Nunnelee and Gregg Harper - escorted the veterans across the barricades.

The Washington Post reports:

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said he believed the Park Service opened the gates. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) said the congressmen did it. Rep. Steven M. Palazzo (R-Miss.) said the barricades just seemed to part.

“I’m not going to enforce the ‘no stopping or standing’ sign for a group of 90 World War II veterans,” said a U.S. Park Police officer, who declined to give his name. “I’m a veteran myself.”

“It’s the best civil disobedience we’ve seen in Washington for a long time,” Huizenga told the group.

Watch some video here from the Sun Herald.

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