Like many other Americans, some of our number are following the "debt ceiling debate" as closely as they can. One of them is doing so in between working even longer hours than he used to - like many other small business owners in the current economy. And despite long days, he has taken the time, twice, to send messages to his Nebraska representatives in Congress in the past two weeks.
I can almost hear the groans of readers as they think one of two things. The first, is: "Why send a message to our Nebraska delegation? They're doing a fine job." Sorry, ladies and gentleman. If you have not been making contact, I recommend you do. I particularly recommend adopting my personal method for doing so, which I lay out near the end of this article. In any case, please, read on.
Others reading who may have groaned, would have done so for an entirely different reason, "Send a message to our Congressmen and Senators??? Are they listening???"
I know, I know. We don't often recommend making contact because we see a lot of groups out there yelling "the sky is falling" every five minutes, on every subject, to the extent that e-mails with "ACTION ALERT" in the subject line are often being ignored.
But, we think the current debate in Washington, D.C., is important enough that we should weigh in on the issue. Further, even if we don't think our contacts influence our representatives, we should still do so periodically. First, we should go on record, occasionally. Second, we need to confirm whether the rhetoric is matching up with the votes. As citizens, voting is not enough - we need to monitor the actions of our elected officials, not just listen to their speeches.
A little over ten days ago, Norlyn sent the message, below, to members of Nebraska's federal delegation, prompted by news report he heard on radio.
Fortunately, I had my seat belt on and a tight grip on the wheel when I heard Speaker Boehner's proposed solution to the impasse in the current negotiations on raising the debt ceiling, else there could have been a major traffic incident.
Paraphrasing, the gist of what I heard Mr. Boehner advocate was a proposed solution to the impasse that would have the Congress hand over to the President the ability to raise the debt ceiling on his own authority!! My thesaurus does not contain enough words to express to you how truly astounding a proposal this is, and not in the good way. It sounds like an audition for a spot on Saturday Night Live, for crying out loud!! This was a quote in the Speaker's own voice and own words, so it is difficult for me to imagine a context out of which it could have been taken.
I have written to you before about the foolishness of leaving in place the same party leadership that managed to lose the House, the Senate, and the presidency all within two short years, and today Mr. Boehner proved me correct, as he has done over and again since the elections of 2008. It was an admirable gesture to read the Constitution aloud upon taking over the House, but apparently Speaker Boehner was either absent or sleeping that day, or it was just that, a gesture he did not take seriously.
Let me be clear: Republicans have no business showing up at these meetings with the intent to negotiate terms for raising the debt ceiling!!! It is a clean and simple concept; no one has ever reduced their debt by borrowing more money! Republicans should be entering these meetings to negotiate the spending cuts necessary to service the current debt, without borrowing additional monies and moving the nation ever closer to becoming Greece.
I cannot emphasize enough the urgency of making your party leadership understand the significance of their actions (or inactions) on this matter. They must understand, if they do not get this right, if they fold on this and push the nation further into debt, they will become a permanent minority party. Over the last few years there has been a growing conviction in the minds of many conservatives that a third party is needed, to represent true constitutional government (today Speaker Boehner's comments reinforced that conviction) and fiscal sanity, and a great number of us, myself included, have argued strongly against such an option, believing it more effective to work with and through the Republican party to bring about change. Unfortunately, your party leadership seems to have an uncontrollable desire to be the Democrat-Lite party.
Lastly, I hope you both will do everything in your power to open the eyes of your leadership to the danger they face here, on this issue of raising the debt ceiling. As vulnerable as Barack Obama is, and to a lesser extent House and Senate Democrats, make no mistake: If the Republicans whiff on this issue and raise the debt ceiling in exchange for the the false promise of future spending cuts of any magnitude, come the elections of 2012, either there will be a third party to which conservatives will flock, or conservatives will simply stay home on election day, or both. Those of us arguing against the third party option will no longer be able to carry the day, nor am I sure we will any longer want to.
Before your leadership caves on the debt ceiling debate, you need to ask them how many Democrats and Independents do they think they can convince to vote Democrat-Lite, to make up for the number of conservative votes they will lose as a result of such a dereliction of their trust? And before they answer, remind them to ponder this: Why would those Democrats and Independents vote for Democrat-Lite when they can check the box next to "Obama" and get the real thing?
P.S. Please do not send me a form letter with talking points lecturing me about the differences between the debt ceiling, the national debt, and deficit spending. No amount of obfuscation will substitute for fiscal responsibility.
I think it's important to emphasize the following point Norlyn made:
We should not be talking about raising the debt limit at all, we should only be cutting spending, right now, not ten years from now.
Lest anyone reading this be fooled into thinking this is some sort of "fringe" or minority opinion, note that Norlyn is not alone in his sentiments. Most media, including Fox News Channel, are citing opinion polls based on the assumption that the debt ceiling will and must be raised.
This is what the pollsters should be asking, first...
SHOULD we raise the debt ceiling?
The poll was not only interesting for the overall responses to the question, but for it's additional data revealed, although common sense would bear out the same:
- The more closely respondents reported following the issue, the more they were opposed to any debt ceiling increase.
- The poll actually recorded verbatim quotes of respondents (very unusal), asking why they were in favor or opposed. And of course, the answers were very revealing in most cases.
Rasmussen Reports most recent polling on the subject did not ask whether or not the debt ceiling limit should be raised, but the slate of questions, and their answers revealed much distrust of officials and resulting impact on Americans' lives.
Further reinforcement for opponents of any increase the Administration and all supporters of an increase are provably talking out of both sides of their mouths:
The first message Norlyn sent to Rep. Fortenberry and Senators Nelson and Johanns articulated many problems very well, to be sure. But I thought the most recent message he sent over the weekend hit the bullseye:
It opened with a quote from a story on Politico:
"Boehner was expected to insist that the president agree to a package of spending cuts that match the amount needed to raise the debt limit, which would be about $2.4 trillion through the end of next year, Buck said."
So let me, one of the 60-some% of Americans who do not want to see the debt limit raised, whom the leadership of both political parties believes are either too ignorant of or too busy to care about the consequences of the current disastrous economic policies that those leaders are currently advancing, yet who by some fluke of circumstance or fortune is able to balance his checkbook, run his business at a profit, and pay his bills on time, let me see if I have this straight:
The current proposal by Speaker Boehner is to push for a total of three to four billion in spending cuts spread over ten years, while at the same time passing a debt limit increase of $2.4 trillion, enough to carry us forward for one year? And this is somehow supposed to one day balance the budget? Oh, and since this deal must be done by Sunday or the entire financial world and all of American civilization will collapse, we will not be able to tell you what is actually in the deal until after we pass it?
Hmmmmm....this reasoning sounds eerily familiar....where have I heard this before? Let me think....ummmmmm.......I know! TARP! Stimulus Plan! Health Care Takeover and Control Plan!
How are those working out so far? Oh, they are a big part of what got us in the current mess in the first place.
Only in the rarefied air of Washington politics would borrowing more money to get out of debt look like a reasonable course of action. The rest of us living and working in the real world where we have to deal with the consequences of these inanities - we breathe air that you can see through.
I urge you to vote only for a plan that cuts spending, not one that borrows more money. If you must, at the least vote for one that cuts one dollar in spending this year for every dollar the debt limit is increased. Everybody except for your party leadership knows that the promise of future cuts in spending is a fantasy that never comes true.
It will be interesting to see IF Norlyn receives answers from Fortenberry, Nelson, and Johanns, and if so, what they are. Note that Norlyn specifically requested that he not be sent a canned response full of talking points.
If you can, take the time to contact your Nebraska representatives. THIS GiN PAGE includes contact information for the entire Nebraska federal delegation.
IF you have the time, I recommend calling the D.C. office of your Congressmen and the two Senators. Further, I recommend the use of a modified form of the Socratic method. Ask some open-ended questions before giving your opinion.
At almost the same time Norlyn sent his emails, I called the office of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (1st Congressional District) and I opened with the following question:
"As one of Rep. Fortenberry's constituents, I want to know: What is his position on the debt ceiling issue?"
The aide who answered the phone did not know the Congressman's position.
I asked, "Does that mean you don't know, or the Congressman hasn't formulated a position?"
Response: "The Congressman is still studying the issue and gathering information from staff and other members of Congress."
The aide took my name and number and said someone who handles "that policy area" would return my call.
Considering my past experiences, I figured I'd be raking leaves by the time I heard anything. I was rather amazed when I received a return call the following day, from an aide who seemed well informed. But, in order to "get down to the brass tacks", I had to become what I would characterize as "very stern" with the gentleman:
"I must tell you, that as one of Rep. Fortenberry's constituents who has been monitoring his actions for quite a while, I'm getting very tired of the fact that he doesn't seem to know what he thinks on any given subject."
Response: "Since there is no legislation on the table currently, the Congressman cannot very well take a position".
My response: "Ok, fair enough. But what is the Congressman's general philosophy regarding the debt ceiling? Doesn't he know where he stands?"
Aide: "He thinks we need to get serious about cutting spending."
I can't remember what I said exactly, but I do remember it was along the lines of "that sounds really good, but everyone is saying that".
The bottom line of my conversation with the aide was that the Congressman didn't want to go on the record anywhere regarding his position because he would lose any bargaining power in Congress; his name would be counted in one column or other for one action or other, and then negotiators would move on. Hmm. The aide said he couldn't influence the issue otherwise.
Hmm, fair enough? Why am I so skeptical? That's some might convenient rationale. Also, why does the word "sweeteners" come to mind? And images of ethanol subsidies?
I concluded my conversation with the aide by strenuously asserting that Rep. Fortenberry should under no circumstances support the insane idea put forward by Senator Mitch McConnell, which would grant the power to the President to single-handedly raise the debt ceiling. I cited Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution, figuring Rep. Fortenberry could use a refresher.
The aide seemed most interested in this opinion, which I, in turn found most interesting. He clearly either wrote that down, or at least acted like he was writing it down. Of course, I was left wondering why the subject of subverting the Constitution was the most interesting to the aide. Was / is Rep. Fortenberry considering it?
The call concluded with a statement from that aide that all notes from constituents are passed on to the Congressman. We shall see if I receive any response whatsoever, how long it takes, and above all, what Rep. Fortenberry actually does in regard to the whole subject.
In retrospect, I find that lack of position on the issue in July interesting, considering that the Congressman put out a press release on May 31 which was headlined "Fortenberry Opposes Debt Ceiling Increase".
See how informative these contacts are? Over time, I've been tracking the way Rep. Fortenberry's office handles calls, the positions he's taking, the responses I receive, how long they take, and how he is voting.
I've noticed a distinct shift in the past year or so. That's informative in and of itself, isn't it? I think there is some pressure on the Congressman; there have been news reports of possible primary challengers.
I would say that's for good reason. He is a very slippery fellow, obviously. Increasingly over the past three years, I have come to have no real expectation that my particular input will be taken into account when Jeff Fortenberry votes. While I may have started out calling the office to impact the outcome of his votes, I've continued, despite my skepticism, because if there's any chance the calls have any influence (when the Congressman is particularly wobbly on a subject), I'll take the few minutes AND I learn a lot each time.
Regardless, it is very...hmm...educational to hear aides squirm on the other end of the phone. I just learn more in the process by asking questions first. Particularly if you are skeptical about my opinion of Jeff Fortenberry, I urge you to give it a try. Either way, at the end of the day, I make certain my opinion is at least heard.