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Tuesday Talk: If Congress wanted to govern?

October 01, 2013 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

If Congress, or more specifically the tea party, really wanted to govern, it could have actually gotten a lot done this summer. Instead, re-writes of NCLB sit without substantive debate, the farm bill expired without compromise on a new one, and Senate-passed immigration reform languishes in the House. Policymakers tabled legislation that would have moved the country forward to play chicken over the budget.

This morning from 8-9:30, former congressional staffer and long-time Washington watcher Steve Francisco joins us to break down congressional inaction’s Minnesota impact.

What do you think?

What should have Congress been working on this summer?


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  • carl brookins says:

    October 1, 2013 at 7:55 am

    I reject your characterization of the Congress as policymakers. They are not. They are, however, liers, distorters of truth, greed and power-driven manipulators of other people’s lives. They generally are following dictates of their party leaders, rather than trying to make good policy to benefit the nation. It appears to me that most of them are in violation of their oath of office and should be prosecuted.

  • Steve Francisco says:

    October 1, 2013 at 8:02 am

    Good morning. My name is Steve Francisco. I am a former Congressional staffer (1982-1994) for the late Congressman Bruce Vento (D-MN) where I worked on federal budget issues (among other subjects). I later lobbied on the Hill for the United Steelworkers for ten years (1994-2003). More recently, I was federal policy director for the MN Budget Project at the MN Council of Nonprofits (2005-2011). On this first day of the new federal fiscal year, there is nothing to celebrate as Congress was not able to reach an agreement on a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the federal govt. running. Over 800,000 federal workers are being furloughed today. If this impasse is not resolved quickly, the economic toll to our still-fragile economy could be severe. I welcome your questions as we take a look at the shutdown of the federal govt.

    • Tim says:

      October 1, 2013 at 9:01 am

      My question is, what can I as a citizen do to stop this tragedy from unfolding? The Tea Party faction in the House needs to learn that they have made a terrible mistake, that they have done harm to this Nation and we the people won’t stand for it. Should I send an email to the Speaker? Send money to the Democrats? Put a sign in my yard or a sticker on my car? Hurl derisive comments at a Republican? Nothing seems adequate. And in the meantime my neighbors are out of work, my investments decline, and the Health Care issue goes unaddressed.

      • Steve Francisco says:

        October 1, 2013 at 9:19 am

        You should certainly send an email/make a phone call today to your senators and member of Congress letting them know your views. A message to the Speaker of the House is also in order. Many people, including me, identify with your frustration about a Congress that is not expressing the will of most of the American people. Many of the members of Congress who are supporting this shutdown strategy come from Congressional districts where this is actually a politically safe position. Some may worry that if they compromise, they could face a primary challenge in their own party in 2014. Independent voters may hold the key to changing some Congressional behavior in more marginal districts because they are opposed to the shutdown and may vote accordingly next year.

      • KJC says:

        October 1, 2013 at 9:28 am

        Consider an “all of the above” strategy.  What did I do?  I started with a respectfully worded, but strong rebuke to my Congressman, Eric Paulsen.  I also brought up another vote he had recently made (SNAP.)  It shows a pattern:  pull SNAP (food stamps) out of its historical place in the farm bill.  Pass plenty of subsidies to those who are relatively well off (quite a few are effectively millionaires.)  Delay the Vote on SNAP until later, hoping you won’t notice the change from generosity to TOUGH…. with the hungry.  Let’s drop 210,000 children and 170,000 veterans from (very modest I might add) SNAP benefits… and throw in “lottery winners” so you have something to “spin” when you talk about this being “just fiscally responsible.”  Millionaire Farmers (some of them my relatives, I hasten to add…) or people who are vulnerable and could go hungry.. who counts?  Yes, I brought that up too… as not Minnesota Values or American Values. 
        If you are represented by a Congressman who voted for cutting SNAP and voted for these “black mail” Continuing Resolutions, those are the people who need to hear from you, and pronto!  We The People.

  • Joe says:

    October 1, 2013 at 8:04 am

    It was a long night. We thank Steve for being here to field your questions and comments on the shutdown and what Congress should have been working on instead of trying to defund the new health care law.

  • Joe says:

    October 1, 2013 at 8:18 am

    Steve, from your experience with the last federal shutdown, tell us a little about what’s actually going on right now. Who will be out of work, what services will likely be suspended? What’s the Minnesota impact?

    • Steve Francisco says:

      October 1, 2013 at 8:37 am

      Basically, all so-called non-essential federal employees are being furloughed today and non-essential federal services will not be available. This means that over 800,000 federal employees will no longer have a paycheck beginning today. Some federal closures include all national parks, monuments, museums, and historic sites (Statue of Liberty, Smithsonian museums in DC, Grand Canyon, etc.) IRS will shut down although taxpayers are still required to pay their taxes. Visas for foreign visitors will not be issued from U.S. consular offices abroad. Essential services that include law enforcement, public safety, national security, food safety inspection, etc.) will continue uninterrupted. This includes CIA, Dept. of Defense, air traffic control. Also, entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid will continue because they are permanently funded programs not subject to annual appropriations by Congress.

      • Joe says:

        October 1, 2013 at 8:39 am

        Thanks for the insight, Steve

      • carl brookins says:

        October 1, 2013 at 11:21 am

        Interesting how casual we are with language. Just how “non-essential” is the work and the paycheck of the single mother who works as a clerk in some regional office of the USDA here in Minnesota? Perhaps in Windom. She won’t be able to pay the babysitter, or buy groceries. The local grocery store will see a decline in income. What’s non-essential about all that? Congressman Kline, Congressman Paulson, Congresswoman Bachmann? Why are you allowing this to happen?

  • KJC says:

    October 1, 2013 at 8:23 am

    This is the whole subject of governance, and what that really takes.  Our Founding Fathers put up an idea that was somewhat revolutionary at the time.  That power, authority…. and responsibility…. flowed not “top down” but from the “people up.”  This was big news, as most “governance” was done by dictators, royal families, etc. 
    This changes everything, of course.  Instead of “to the victor go the spoils” where dictators and royals used the countries and populations to enrich themselves for Getting On Top, instead it meant the The Leaders were there to Serve the people… not themselves… to make life better for the average citizen.  It seems humans can have trouble with this principle….
    It seems that we tend to slip back towards that old “top down” personal-gain-leadership model, until the public
    (re)insists on the model of our Founding Fathers.  What can you say when the Speaker of the House, rather than bring a “clean” Continuing Resolution to fund our government to the House floor… which everybody agreed would immediately pass with bi-partisan support.. instead, he is more worried about losing his “speakership” to factions in his own party?  Which model does that “thinking” fit into?
    Leading-by-example indeed:  and apparently he opted to have his job possibly mean more, more than shutting down the whole government!  Isn’t that the message?  As for working on things this summer… little can be done in this winner-take-all/blackmail-for-what-you-can’t-get-a-the-ballot-box situation.  It reminds me of The Mob going around some neighborhoods demanding “protection money”... Or Else.  Yes, protection, From Them!
    How did we get here?  Ultimately the question is, what am I willing to do to win?  I think that honest and sincere politicians understand one thing:  that if/when they do get in office, that they must represent all the people… even those who didn’t vote for them.  The Common Good. So?  There are things that you WON’T do to win, because they are too divisive, and will make it impossible to actually govern when you if/when you get to the capitol to do that governing.  THAT’S the line that has been crossed.. people (like Ted Cruz) are willing to do and say anything to get elected, and stay in office, even though it clearly is making actual governance nearly impossible.  The Founding Fathers would not have minced words about that, they would have rebuked the “anti-governance” types with a strong message of disapproval… and We The People of 2013 should do the same.

    • Steve Francisco says:

      October 1, 2013 at 8:46 am

      House Speaker John Boehner agreed to go along with this strategy of including the defunding of the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) in the continuing resolution to satisfy a significant segment of his party. He did so knowing full well that the Senate and the President would never go along with this idea. In years past, the continuing resolution was generally viewed by members of Congress from both parties as a “must pass” bill. But what’s new here is that the Tea Party contingent in the House is driven by an ideological agenda in which compromise is viewed as a sign of weakness, not strength. The House has voted over 40 times since 2010 to repeal Obamacare but it has gone nowhere in the Senate. This shutdown and the coming showdown over raising the debt limit by mid-October is further evidence of the dysfunction in Congress. It says to the world that we do not look capable of governing ourselves.

  • Joe says:

    October 1, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Steve, How come these guys can’t seem to work together? Is it because of ineffective House leadership or the old sticks and carrots don’t work on the tea party?

    • Steve Francisco says:

      October 1, 2013 at 8:52 am

      Some folks may think that the House leadership and its members have a monolithic view toward the shutdown and defunding Obamacare. In fact, Speaker Boehner is contending with a fractured majority party where many members are taking a very hard and inflexible position (i.e., no continuing resolution without defunding the health care law) but others such as Rep. Peter King of NY are worried that the GOP has boxed itself into an unwinnable situation. The public opinion polling that I have seen suggests that while many Americans may have some doubts about Obamacare, they are strongly opposed to shutting down the federal government.

      • Joe says:

        October 1, 2013 at 8:55 am

        Are there many Peter Kings left? He seems like a guy you can reach across the party lines and work with on key issues. It seems the Minnesota conservatives just go along and don’t make waves, with the exception of a certain congress woman in central Minnesota.

        • Steve Francisco says:

          October 1, 2013 at 9:04 am

          Rep. Peter King is a conservative, but he’s also a very practical politician. Late yesterday, he attempted to rally support from his House colleagues for a “clean” continuing resolution (without defunding Obamacare) but fell short. As of now, there are not enough Republicans willing to vote for a clean CR, but that could change as the political costs of the shutdown begin to grow.  Minnesota Republican Reps. John Kline and Eric Paulsen have stated that they oppose a govt shutdown, but last night they voted to do just that, as did Rep. Michele Bachmann

  • Joe says:

    October 1, 2013 at 9:16 am

    According to your earlier piece about sequestration, Minnesota is already feeling the impact of federal cuts. How much of a disruption will this shut down cause here?

    • Steve Francisco says:

      October 1, 2013 at 9:32 am

      It really depends on how long this shutdown lasts. If it’s only a few days, the impact will be marginal, but if it goes on for a few weeks, the costs to Minnesota’s economy will be felt more strongly. Thousands of federal employees who live in MN and who are being furloughed will not be paying state income taxes. They will also probably be curtailing their spending which could mean a drop in sales tax revenues. A drop in tourism caused by the delay in the issuance of visas for foreign travelers could also have impacts on local hotels, resatuarants, Mall of America, etc. Overall, MN is unlikely to be hit as hard as some other states with large military installations (CA, TX, VA, FL) with large civilian contractor employees.

  • Joe says:

    October 1, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Steve, thanks for joining us today. One final though, how will this play out?

    • Steve Francisco says:

      October 1, 2013 at 9:42 am

      Looking into my crystal ball (always a risky proposition), I predict that Speaker Boehner will agree to present a clean continuing resolution (i.e., dropping the defunding of Obamacare) to the House within the next five days. He will tell his caucus that they have fought the good fight but that they cannot possibly prevail in the Senate. (True) Fewer than 20% of the current House includes members who were present for the last shutdown in 1995 that initially went on for three days. (A subsequent less-broad shutdown in late 1995 went on for three weeks). What’s different in 2013 from 1995? Saturation coverage by CNN and many other news outlets and the rise of social media. Boehner’s position is quite simply untenable for the long haul. He knows it. Most of his caucus knows it. The Senate knows it. And President Obama knows it.

  • cathy says:

    October 1, 2013 at 10:20 am

    Apparently, Tea Partiers ran on the idea to defund the ACA and shutting-down the government. Several clips of the last campaign were shown on the news. They actually welcome the shut-down. Romney ran on the same ideas but lost the election by a big margin. It seems to me that the Tea Party is a separate party with separate differences and should be treated as such (a minority party as the Independent Party). They are mean spirited, uncompromising and unrelenting. They are backed by big business (Koch Bros., ALEC). Ted Cruz is dangerous. Not even in office one year he is rallying the Tea Party in both houses and walking over Boehner. They are out of control. Through propaganda and gerry-mandering of districts, they have people rallying along with them. If they are allowed to have their way and get what they demand, they will use this tactic every time to get what they (Koch Bros.) want.

  • Dan Conner says:

    October 1, 2013 at 10:24 am

    How about Republicans working on the “Jobs, jobs, jobs”, it has repeatedly mouthed.  Just shows, Republicans stand for nothing but a big lie.  They are not about people, or anything that helps them.  They are only for wealthy corporations and the rich people who own them.  The rest is window dressing and not sincere.

  • Dan Conner says:

    October 1, 2013 at 10:27 am

    Oh, but Republicans look to minimize damage to their supporters.  Notice, the FAA will remain operational, so Republicans can fly around all they want.  I think the President should also close the FAA, or the Air Traffic Controllers strike.  This time the people might agree with controllers.  Then, the FAA should turn off all navigational aids, like VOR’s and ILS’s.  Then, being grounded, the rich might experience some of the pain.

  • KJC says:

    October 1, 2013 at 11:18 am

    I’d characterize this as not merely about policy.  It’s much bigger, and worse, than that.  Many, many times there have been “extraneous” things attached to bills, and sent to the Other House.  It frequently gets stripped off, and then people move on.  Imagine back in the 80’s if the Democrats in the House had demanded that Reagan’s tax cuts be repealed by holding the debt ceiling as a hostage (a total of 17 times they could have done that, as I recall….) 
    No, this is about rewriting not merely policy, but about changing the acceptable procedures of getting what you want.  You don’t need the votes, all you have to do is be willing to get control of 1/2 of one of the three branches of government… and then be willing to run the country over a cliff… economic terrorism.  If it goes this way, anytime the Tea Party wants something (to give to their Koch Bros, et al, benefactors) they’ll just hold the country hostage again.  So much for the established procedure of having the votes for a given, actual, policy (or not.)
    I’m with the Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania who said?  “Republicans have to quit pretending that McConnell is head of the Senate and Mitt Romney is President.”  Yes, the 2012 election is long over, and I thought that was very well said… is America listening and willing to take a stand that our systems be allowed to actually work… and rebuke those who seek merely to derail good governance in a power play?  We the People.