Newsletter: November 2013
Nov 25, 2013
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Message from Mark
Things in Washington have slowed a bit since October, but in many ways this is but the calm before the storm - so there is no shortage of information on which to update you and accordingly I offer a few thoughts.
The Affordable Care Act has been making headlines, but it seems to me to be a part of a much bigger budget drama in Washington, which is worth delving into before I offer thoughts on the recent news.
First, I may have beaten the budget battle to death over the last month with a number of newsletters about the shutdown (which you can read here), but this issue isn’t in the rear view mirror yet. The next deadline for agreement in Washington on the budget is December 13th; Paul Ryan from the House and Patty Murray from the Senate have been charged with coming to a deal on this front and at this point progress seems slow. We will see what comes next, however regardless of what they do or don’t produce, January and February will see significant deadlines on the Continuing Resolution and the debt ceiling.
The tug of war on any budget solution will involve two major issues. First is dealing with the driver of the national debt, entitlement spending, and at this point there seems to be little appetite to address this elephant in the budget room. Which leaves a second elephant, the sequester. As you may recall during my race this spring, folks in Washington exchanged raising the debt ceiling for a cap in non-entitlement spending. It’s not the big part of the budget, but important just the same given that it capped some kind of spending in Washington. This is a big deal as real caps in Washington spending come along about as often as the probability of your neighbor getting struck by lightning or you dying of a spider bite tonight. It just doesn’t happen a lot. I think many conservatives, “the right,” would like to bust the budget caps imposed by the sequester because of their impact on military spending. Many liberals, “the left,” would like to do the same for the way this type of spending funds many interests important to their political coalition. So I suspect if there is any sort of deal between Ryan and Murray it will lie in raising spending now (the caps on domestic discretionary) in exchange for future cuts in entitlement spending. I will be appropriately open minded, but suspicious, of any such deal because that is the way of Washington - increase spending now in exchange for illusory cuts in the future.
Though the message never got through, and was certainly drowned by the back and forth on fund vs. don’t fund the Affordable Care Act, the reason I think there was legitimacy to Republicans awkward attempts to draw a line in the sand on spending is because the government shutdown fireworks are so theatrical when measured against the reality of our spending problem. We have a profound spending addiction, and if not dealt with all of us will see even more profound consequences in terms of the value of the dollar, future inflation and our way of life. James Hamilton of the University of California made news in August by arguing that the real national debt was actually $70 trillion. Lawrence Kotlicoff from Boston University has long argued the national debt is actually over $200 trillion. David Walker, former Comptroller of the United States, has argued a number between the two. Regardless of where you end up, all these numbers are far above the $17 trillion everyone now talks about in Washington, and they beg the larger need for action. These numbers are relevant particularly in the current debate on the deficit, where the President and others have argued that deficits are coming down. It means that real deficits are closer to $5 to $7 trillion a year and growing.
Washington’s inability thus far to react to these numbers remains unsettling because even in the recent debt ceiling increase the debt limit was actually suspended, rather than raised, and since the October deal the debt has jumped by more than $300 billion! I won’t belabor my opposition to this method of handling the debt ceiling, but I say all this to remind you that February 7th is approaching quickly and without a budget deal that addresses the long term drivers of our debt, I am concerned Congress will give the President another blank check to further raise the debt limit.
Going back to the news of the day – it’s obviously centered on the problems associated with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. To state the obvious, it’s been a disaster, and in its wake I think several things stand out.
One, the so called “Obamacare disaster” may change the tenor of the debt and Continuing Resolution debates in January and February. In politics, the quickest way of changing the debate lies indeed in changing the discussion. Harry Reid and the President are likely to want to deflect from the Affordable Care Act debate by instead moving to a new discussion on these two issues. Politically it would make sense, so I would not be surprised to see new wrinkles on those upcoming budget related debates.
Two, people like choice. Though we have come a long way from a market based economy over the last 50 years...still ingrained in the American way is the notion of an individual’s choice superseding government’s choice on something so personal as heath care. The administration seemed to have underestimated this reality.
Three, given the ways in which young people have not enrolled, as could have easily been anticipated, the costs on this new entitlement are going to sky rocket. This means particularly bad things for a country already struggling with too much debt.
Finally, once again words matter in politics. The President has said since the beginning that those who wanted to keep their insurance would be able to under the new law (you can even check it out here). It has proven and will continue to be a real problem given the degree to which so many are now unhappy with their new plan. As I am sure you know, even President Clinton came out saying that this shouldn’t be so, and that the President should honor his original promise to let individuals keep their plans if they like them. To make matters worse, we now know that the White House knew that many Americans purchasing individual insurance would be unable to keep their plan, but decided to keep it a secret. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, White House aides knew they had a problem, but decided to stick with the promise that everyone could keep their plan because they didn’t want to “clutter the president’s message.” The President has come in with a new delay, but again all this begs the larger Constitutional question of whether or not the executive branch has the right to unilaterally change law. So we have a serious mess brewing on this one in Washington.
In 12 short years, if Congress continues to avoid cutting our deficit and making real reforms to spending, our debt problems will reach a point where we can afford nothing but interest on our debt and funding entitlement programs and each day we approach the financial point of no return. All this makes efforts here in Washington that much more important and accordingly I am really humbled by the chance to try and make a difference in this vital debate.
The next few months will be a crucial time in getting us on a sustainable path and I am sure there will be plenty of fireworks along the way. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on the financial problems confronting our nation or your personal experiences with the Affordable Care Act – you can do so by clicking here.
The National Security Agency
As new and additional revelations regarding the scope of the NSA’s activities continue, Rep. Sanford introduced H.R. 3436: The NSA Inspector General Act of 2013, in order to provide a more independent IG office to ensure oversight of the agency’s activities is occurring. Rep. Sanford gave the following statement explaining why he introduced the legislation:
“Right now, the IG is appointed by the Director of the NSA, which curbs their oversight effectiveness because the Director can remove them. It’s a real simple concept, if someone’s ability to make the mortgage is determined by the person they are charged with evaluating, their assessments will be less than totally independent because their finances certainly are not independent of their bosses decisions. As recently noted in an op-ed by the former IG of the CIA, Britt Snider, this lack of independence creates an environment where employees of the IG’s office worry about their careers if their findings and conclusions are critical of the agency.”
“There are a number of reforms that need to be made at the NSA to ensure the Agency is not violating the privacy of Americans, but without a robust IG office, these reforms will lack the teeth they need to be enforced. In this vein, I feel this legislation is a reasonable and necessary step that will help bring positive change to the Agency.”
More information on this bill can be found here.
Many in the Lowcountry are seeing the cost of their insurance increase as the Biggert-Waters legislation reforming flood insurance goes into effect. Rep. Sanford has signed on as a cosponsor to H.R. 3370, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, in order to enact a delay until the affordability of these reforms is considered. Rep. Sanford explained his support for the bill by saying:
“I decided to co-sponsor the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act because the Biggert-Waters legislation that passed last year, while well intended, is flawed. I wasn't there during its passage, but in this case you have a bill that puts the cart before the horse. It allows government to set new premiums now and charge more without disclosure of how they are deriving their new rates. As a conservative it seems reasonable to say why and how, when government just says ‘trust me,’ and the degree to which the original bill is flawed is highlighted by the fact that even Maxine Waters, who authored the Biggert-Waters bill, has now cosponsored this bill that amends her bill.”
“A ‘time-out’ and delaying implementation of Biggert-Waters accordingly makes sense to me. Change will come in time to all these programs, but it should be done in a business-like manner that allows markets and people the ability to respond and plan in a way that the current bill does not.”
Recently Rep. Sanford signed on as a cosponsor to H.R. 36, which creates a select committee to investigate last year’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya which resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his staff. Rep. Sanford released the following statement regarding his decision to cosponsor it:
“The question now is whether or not a breakdown in the chain of command occurred, or if the decision was made not to intervene, which would be even more alarming. While we cannot change what happened, we can learn from it and I believe the families of slain American personnel, as well as the American people, deserve to know what occurred.”
Below are a few notes on recent votes Rep. Sanford has taken:
Rep. Sanford voted against H.R. 2189, which came before the House on Tuesday, October 29, and passed 404-1 saying, “I don’t want it to be misinterpreted that I don’t think things should not be done to improve the quality of care for those who have faithfully served our nation, but as the only former Governor in the Congress, I think I have a valuable and unique perspective on the importance of doing so in a way that does not undermine prerogatives that have rested with states for the last 200 years.”
The Congressman released the following statement on the bill:
“The bill at first brush looked good because it creates a committee to address the backlog of disability claims at the VA, but I wound up being the dissenting vote against it for reasons I’ll offer in just a moment. Before doing so let me say that taking care of our veterans is something that’s deeply important to me – the federal government made a commitment to them when they commissioned or enlisted, and it’s disgraceful that over 900,000 veterans are still waiting for timely care and attention to their benefits applications. I’ve voted several times in the few months I have been in Congress for measures to reduce this backlog, and while this task force would have been another positive step forward, one provision of this bill violated 10th Amendment states’ rights, and that is ultimately why I cast my vote against it – and that I’d like to address.
“In order to speed up the process of evaluating medical claims, this bill will allow doctors contracted by the VA to travel across state borders and perform medical exams in any state, as long as they are licensed in one state. There’s no doubt that we need more physicians performing exams to determine if a veteran is eligible for disability benefits, but the problem here lies with how we license doctors in this country. We’ve established a system where each state sets their own licensing standards for physicians practicing within their state – South Carolina might have very different requirements of their physicians than California, and so on. Allowing a physician to practice in any state, even if it is for the good purpose of helping our veterans, would trample on the ability of states to determine who is eligible to practice within their own boundaries. Unfortunately doing so breaks the concept of federalism the founding fathers believed was so important to maintaining liberty because their premise was that power was to be divided in as many ways as possible. At the federal level horizontally, as it was allotted between the executive, legislative and judicial branches - but they also believed it should be vertically split between the federal government and state and local governments. In this they even went so far as to say in the Constitution, that those powers not specifically enumerated for the federal government were to be left to local governments and the people. So I support the underlying goals of reducing the backlog of disability claims, and want our veterans to be treated with respect and timely attention, but I believe we could have created a task force to examine the problems here without also violating the Constitution.”
Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA)
A few weeks ago, Rep. Sanford voted in favor of the Water Resources Reforms Act, which passed the House by a vote of 417-3. The Congressman had this to say on his vote:
“It represents an important step forward for Charleston and businesses not only in our region, but across the state, as it is vital to ensuring Charleston’s Post-45 harbor deepening stays on schedule. But I think that in addition to the economic impact back home, the cost cutting measures and the provisions to increase efficiency, ultimately there’s a bigger consideration here which is a constitutional question on the balance of power.”
“This bill is about reclaiming authority that many contended was ceded to the Executive Branch. I applaud the fact that this bill contains no earmarks, yet preserves the role of the Congress in determining spending priorities, rather than abdicate that responsibility to the Executive Branch. In too many ways it seems to me we are moving towards an imperial Presidency without traditional checks and balances. Beyond the necessity of funding national infrastructure, this bill’s greatest accomplishment may well be its work in maintaining the balance of power.
During the government shutdown, Rep. Sanford took to the House floor to discuss the shutdown, the closing of open-air monuments and facilities, and political gamesmanship, which you can watch by clicking on the underlined words.
Also during the shutdown, Rep. Sanford appeared on Fox and Friends concerning his decision to bring back furloughed workers after the House unanimously passed a bill to pay furloughed workers, saying at the time that doing any less would result in a taxpayer subsidized vacation. You can watch the interview here. Rep. Sanford also appeared on Morning Joe and you can watch it here.
Recently, Rep. Sanford was on the Rocky D show to comment on Secretary Sebelius’s testimony about the rollout of the Affordable Care Act exchanges, which you can listen to here.
GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN FOLLOW-UP
After the recent 16-day government shutdown, Rep. Sanford released the following statement regarding donating his pay:
“A number of you have asked where I would be donating following the 16 day government shutdown...just to follow-up, I have decided to donate $5,000 in total to the Spanish Moss Trail, the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, Nemours Wildlife Foundation, the local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, MUSC Children’s Hospital, Volunteers in Medicine, the ALS Association of South Carolina and the Lowcountry affiliate of Susan G. Komen. These groups are of particular importance to me and fulfill a variety of worthwhile missions here in the Lowcountry.”
IN THE DISTRICT
Satellite Office Hours
Rep. Sanford’s Beaufort office is busy conducting satellite office hours around the county, in order to be as accessible as possible to constituents requiring assistance on issues related to the federal government. Recently, they held satellite office hours in Sun City, Bluffton, Hilton Head Island and St. Helena. To get more information about upcoming office hours, please call the Beaufort Office at 843-521-2530.
Neighborhood Office Hours
Rep. Sanford is continuing to hold Neighborhood Office Hours across the district, with the last session being held the first Tuesday in November at the Piggly Wiggly in Moncks Corner. These informal gatherings allow constituents to ask questions and hear the Congressman’s comments on what is happening in Washington.
Open Door After 4
Rep. Sanford held an “Open Door After 4” office hours on Thursday, November 7th, and met with a number of constituents in his district office. These events are informal "open house-style" meetings where constituents can drop by the office and discuss the issues important to them with the Congressman.
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