Nel's New Day

June 3, 2015

Will Hastert Have to Follow His Principles?

Moral values have always been a strong platform of the Republican party, but they consistently betray their own conservative positions. The latest example is 73-year-old Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the U.S. House, bribing someone to conceal an “unidentified event” long ago while Hastert taught in Yorkville (IL). Promising to pay an unnamed person $3.5 million, Hastert has been indicted for withdrawing $1.7 million of money in sums under $10,000 to avoid IRS detection and then lying to the FBI about the money. It appears that he molested at least two underage males while he was coaching wrestling.

Barney Frank pointed out on All In with Chris Hayes:

“There is a hypocrisy issue. Dennis Hastert was a member of the House who voted for the Defense of Marriage act. He subsequently as Speaker twice put before the House of Representatives the constitutional amendment that would have cancelled retroactively all the same sex marriages that had taken place legally. … The rank hypocrisy of this man using his power to persecute other people for doing what he was doing.”

Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA) was forced to resign from the Speaker position in 1998 because he was having an affair with an employee of the House Agriculture Committee while he was still married. (Later he divorced his wife, and married the woman.)  His replacement, Rep. Robert Livingston (R-LA), resigned because he was having an affair with a lobbyist who was lobbying him. (His replacement was David Vitter, a right-wing family-values conservative who was then caught having adulterous affairs with prostitutes.) Livingston then formed a lobbying group, blocking a Senate bill to call on one of his clients, Egypt, to curtail the country’s human rights abuses.

Hastert took over as Speaker just 18 days after the beginning of impeachment proceedings against President Clinton. Frank concluded, “I think that it now looks like if you take Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Dennis Hastert, and Robert Livingston the Republican Speakers or would be speakers, Clinton is a choir boy.”

Orin Kerr summarized the situation in the Washington Post:

“If I understand the history correctly, in the late 1990s, the President was impeached for lying about a sexual affair by a House of Representatives led by a man who was also then hiding a sexual affair, who was supposed to be replaced by another Congressman who stepped down when forced to reveal that he too was having a sexual affair, which led to the election of a new Speaker of the House who now has been indicted for lying about payments covering up his sexual contact with a boy.”

One of the impeachment “managers” who made the case to the Senate was Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), who had had an adulterous affair. It was called a “youthful indiscretion,” but it happened when Hyde was 41. He is known for the Hyde Amendment barring the use of federal funds to pay for abortions that has annually appeared as riders on appropriation bills for the past 30 years.

Hastert voted “aye” on all four impeachment counts. During the impeachment proceedings, Princeton scholar Sean Wilentz told House Republicans that, in the future, they would be seen as “zealots and fanatics” and added, “History will hunt you down for your cravenness.”

In addition to consistently voting against marriage equality, Hastert voted no on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill to prohibit companies from discriminating against LGBT employees. He was also a strong supporter of funding for abstinence sex education because “more kids need to be taught to just say no, that doesn’t just apply to drugs, it also applies to sex before marriage.” Hastert resigned as Speaker after the discovery that he had protected former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) who had sexual  relationships with boys employed as pages at the U.S. Capitol.

In his autobiography over a decade old ago, Hastert wrote, “I was never a very good liar. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough. I could never get away with it, so I made up my mind as a kid to tell the truth and pay the consequences.”

Hastert codified a House doctrine, first used by Gingrich, that prevented any floor vote on a bill unless a “majority of the majority” party supports the bill. The policy, called “The Hastert Rule,” has resulted in a combination of massive gridlock and partisanship in the House. No bill can go to the floor unless the Speaker of the House gives permission. For example, a bill technically passes the House with 218 votes, but with the current number of Democrats in the House at 170, a bill must have at least 123 Republican votes—that’s a required 293 votes, almost 55 percent of the House members. Last year, the immigration bill passed with 68 votes in the Senate failed to even get an up-or-down vote in the House because too few GOP members supported it.

Known as a nice guy, Hastert hid scandals during his tenure as Speaker for people in his own party. He concealed Tom DeLay’s misconduct until they became obvious. When the ethics committee recommended a series of reprimands for DeLay in 2004, Hastert fired the committee chair, Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO) and two other GOP members of the committee, Kenny Hulshof (MO) and Steve LaTourette (OH) before leading rule changes to make it harder to admonish House members. After three DeLay associates were indicted, Hastert enacted a rule enabling DeLay to stay as majority leader if he were indicted.

Colleagues claimed that Hastert was squeaky clean, but he manipulated land transactions in his home state to increase his net worth by millions of dollars. He bought land at a low price while two cronies purchased adjacent land at a much higher price before merging the parcels in a trust that gave Hastert an inflated share. Using his clout as Speaker, he jammed through a transportation bill with an attached $207 million earmark to fund a highway interchange that neither the Illinois Department of Transportation nor residents adjacent to the land wanted. The Speaker got $3 million, a 500-percent profit, and the highway was never built.

Hastert also forced through the Medicare prescription-drug bill by presiding over the nearly three-hour vote in the dead of night that the rules limited to 15 minutes. The Rules Committee squashed amendments from both Democrats and Republicans with rare conferences late at night and closed to anyone except Hastert’s loyal followers. Provisions, neither in House or Senate bills, were added without notice to lawmakers.

Throughout all the chicanery, Hastert kept a quiet demeanor and stayed away from most Sunday talk shows. Reporters largely ignored his presence while he managed to guide the country into the disaster that exists today.

Where Hastert goes from here, no one knows. His arraignment on financial charges, originally scheduled for tomorrow, has been moved to next Tuesday, June 9. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin, who contributed $1,500 to Hastert’s campaign before taking the bench and is the brother of Illinois House GOP Leader Jim Durkin.

Haley Barbour, former RNC chairman, said about the indictment for paying hush money to the former Speaker of the House because he had sex with a teenager and then lied about it to the FBI:

“It doesn’t matter a bit politically. Democrats hope it does, but I don’t think so.”

The Wall Street Journal questioned the charges against Hastert from “busybody agencies” such as the FBI and IRS,” and NBC’s Pete Williams called the charges purely “technical.” This weekend, on the Sunday talk shows, moderators and reporters raked the prosecution over the coals. NBC News correspondent Pete Williams called the charges against Hastert purely “technical.” ABC’s Dan Abrams and Fox network’s Brit Hume think that “derivative crimes” are minor issues, similar to lying under oath—the charge that Hastert used to impeach President Clinton.

Seventeen years ago, Republicans said that derivative crimes were important, regardless of context, because no one was above the law. Hastert, House deputy majority whip, agreed, and voted to authorize the House Judiciary Committee to investigate Clinton. The committee must “uncover the truth” and “uphold the rule of law,” said Hastert. “Sweeping the matter under the rug just won’t work.” With his votes for impeachment, he declared that the president was not “above the law.” Sixteen years ago, when President Clinton was acquitted, Hastert said, “Republicans in the Congress can be proud that they stood by the principles that have made this nation strong.” The first principle he cited was “respect for the rule of law.”

Now the question is whether Hastert is above the law. Will he be able to conceal his own wrongdoings? I’m guessing yes, because conservatives are usually successful in this area.

May 24, 2013

The GOP – Not Even Penny-Wise While Pound Foolish

Yesterday, a part of the I-5 bridge that crosses the Skagit River in northern Washington state collapsed, sending two vehicles down 50 feet into the 46-degree, 15-foot-deep water and three people to the hospital. With no loss of life, the loss of this bridge, which carries 71,000 people each day, may not seem like a big deal. But it is.

People have been well aware that bridges and other infrastructures across the country are crumbling. Almost six years ago, a Minneapolis bridge collapse that killed 13 people drew attention to the expanding disaster caused by Congressional unwillingness to address this problem. Last year, the Federal Highway Administration reported that 67,000 of our 607,000 bridges are structurally deficient. That’s almost 11 percent of all bridges, only one percent less than when the I-35 bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. Motorists take 210 million trips daily across at least one deficient bridge.

Some studies  identified bridges needing the most work, and some states installed sensors to track bridges’ deterioration on a computer. With a lack of funding, however, bridges, with an average age of 42, failed to receive the attention that they need. The nation has a C+ for maintaining bridges, and governments need to add $8 billion annually to their investment to take care of these bridges.

A truck with an excessively tall load striking a steel girder may have caused the collapse over Washington’s Skagit River. Naysayers could claim that the bridge was probably fine. But safe bridges are not classified as “fracture critical,” which means that the entire structure can be brought down if only one major part fails. Inspected twice during the last year, the bridge received a sufficiency rating of 47 out of 100 at its November 2012 inspection. The state average is 80, according to an Associated Press analysis. Built in 1955, the bridge is one of almost 2,000 bridges in classified as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

The real news is that public construction spending is lower than it’s been in over 20 years.

bridge construction

In his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about addressing “an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair.” As he put it, “Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire–a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and Internet, high-tech schools, self-healing power grids.” He supports the “Fix-It-First” program, but as Matt Yglesias explained:

“[P]oliticians and real-estate developers like to open brand new roads with fun ribbon-cutting ceremonies and new subdivisions. Finding money to actually maintain roads we already have is less appealing. Consequently, we get too many miles of road (and too much sprawl), but the roads suck. The fix-it-first concept is to flip this and make sure we’re maximizing the value of our existing roads before we build new ones.”

The president’s recommended a partnering with the private sector to create jobs through the investment in vitally needed projects. A government investment of $10 billion to create and capitalize an independent National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) could leverage $200 billion of total infrastructure investment from private sector partners and state and local governments.

The GOP is interested only in manufactured scandals that they hope will bring down President Obama and the Democrats, spending and tax cuts, and the elimination of women’s rights. They want to continue hearings on Benghazi, questioning former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; bring Lois Lerner back to question her about the IRS despite her clear intention to invoke the Fifth Amendment; investigate Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about fundraising for Obamacare; press forward on a national anti-abortion law which would be unconstitutional; and otherwise avoid governing the country.

Boehner and the rest of the extremists in Congress don’t consider that the United States is approaching an economy in which goods cannot be easily transported from one city or state to another because the country doesn’t have the bridges and roads and rail to do this.

The collapsed bridge in Washington has cut off the highway into Canada from the western states of California, Oregon, and Washington. This cuts private profits. Failure to invest in roads and bridges would total $3.1 trillion in lost GDP growth in the next eight years, lose 3.5 million jobs, and cost private sector companies over $1 trillion.

Eighteen months ago, Senate Republicans, with the help of Nebraska’s blue dog Ben Nelson and Connecticut’s independent Joe Lieberman, blocked the piece of President Obama’s jobs act, which would have provided for $60 billion in infrastructure spending.

At the same time, House Republicans were determined to pass a bill that would tie new infrastructure funding to federal revenue generated from an expansion of domestic energy production. At that time, 27 percent of the bridges in Ohio, Speaker John Boehner’s home state, were either “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete,” including 171 bridges that are part of the national highway system.

Almost a year ago, Mark Thoma, economist and Fellow at the American Century Foundation, wrote about how he was stunned by Congress’s inability to fund infrastructure investment because it would meet the GOP goal of a boost to the general economy.

“At a time when interest rates are as low as we are likely to see, when labor and other costs are minimal due to lack of demand during the downturn, and when the need is so high, why aren’t we making a massive investment in infrastructure, which is ultimately an investment in our future? There are many, many public investments we could make where the benefits surely exceed the costs–these are things the private sector won’t do on its own even though they are highly valuable to society–so what are we waiting for?

“If there’s any policy Republicans ought to be able to support, it’s infrastructure spending. It’s inherently a supply-side policy, it helps to promote future economic growth, and it’s an investment with large, positive net benefits. But Republicans see a ‘we won’t build that’ approach to infrastructure spending. . .”

For the past five years, interest rates have been at all-time lows, and construction workers have been largely unemployed. Investing in the infrastructure would have been a bargain. Bridges are not the only piece of infrastructure that are approaching crisis. Highways, wastewater treatment facilities, electricity grid, and tunnels are rapidly deteriorating without maintenance.

In a survey of airports last month, not one U.S. airport was rated in the top 25. Only 17 were in the top 100. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport fell to 30th from 24th a year ago.

The sequester will make this even worse because of the need for senators and representatives to fly on time. The $253 million paying for more prompt airplanes comes from airport maintenance and construction. President Obama said:

“We’re using our seed corn short-term. And the only reason we’re doing it is because right now we’ve got folks who are unwilling to make some simple changes to our tax code, for example, to close loopholes that aren’t adding to our competitiveness and aren’t helping middle-class families.”

More scary statistics here—and these are two years old! The GOP is intent to create a country with a non-government, and they are willing to destroy the concept of “general welfare” in order to do this.

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