The Estate Tax
The vote was symbolic. Senate Democrats (minus West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin) and President Obama remain opposed to a repeal, ensuring it won’t advance any further than it did today in the foreseeable future.
Among the groups leaning on lawmakers to roll back the tax: an association going by the nothing-to-see-here name of the Policy and Taxation Group, which has reportedly drawn support from a handful of super-rich families, including the Gallos, the Kochs, Mars’, and the Waltons. If Congressional Republicans think that’s the crowd most in need of a break this tax season, they should probably get out more.
Motorcycle enthusiasts and members of Congress are pushing to ban federal funding of local efforts to check helmet use or establish checkpoints that single out bikers.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., reintroduced his Stop Motorcycle Checkpoint Funding Act on Thursday, following the quiet introduction of a bill with the same name by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., in January.The only Democrat signed on as co-sponsor is Joe Manchin.
Manchin has directed the state Department of Transportation to study whether West Virginia could do away with the helmet requirement, at least in part, while maintaining safety. . . .Manchin held a press conference on the steps of the state Capitol at 2 p.m., and then mounted his 1999 Harley Road King Classic and rode with about a dozen others to a motorcycle rally at Snowshoe Mountain.
Who says the Republicans don't care about women?
Fischer's bill paints Democrats into a corner. If they vote against it, they risk being accused of hypocritically blocking equal pay legislation. But they can't accept Fischer's legislation as a replacement for their own, more comprehensive bill, which they've been fighting to pass for years.
So, in other words, the Republican version borrows one idea from the Democratic version, skips the rest, and pretends that it is the best way to promote and enforce pay equality. And if Democrats really care about women and their paychecks, they should support this watered-down bill, which has the “bipartisan” support of Independent Sen. Angus King and “Democrats” Joe Donnelly and Joe Manchin. You know whose support it doesn’t have? The Democratic women who’ve been slamming their heads against their desks as Republicans insist America doesn’t need any more equal pay laws, thank you very much. But shouldn’t those ladies just shut their squeal holes and listen to the menfolk on this? (No, they should not, and they will not.)
“We’ve already given 6,600 American lives trying to liberate and help that part of the world; we’ve spent about 2- to 3-trillion dollars,” Manchin said. “Under no circumstances do I believe us getting engaged in a ground war over there is going to change that part of the world. Hasn’t done it yet, and I don’t think it will.“When you put American troops in there, it’s like throwing gasoline on the fire.”
We were waist deep in the Big Muddy,
And the big fool said to push on.
--- Pete Seeger, 1967
From the Associated Press via the Intelligencer:
CHARLESTON (AP) - The West Virginia House of Delegates overwhelmingly passed a repeal of an energy portfolio Thursday, which is poised to become the first bill the newly-minted GOP Legislature sends to Democrat Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
The House voted 95-4 Thursday to repeal the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. House Republicans and some Democrats called it a free-market move that helps the struggling Central Appalachian coal industry.
Other Democrats labeled the repeal a political stunt.
It sure looks like a stunt. The law was passed with bipartisan support during the Manchin Administration:
Some of the biggest stakeholders have said the law doesn't affect them, whether it exists or not. The coal and power industries helped write it in the first place.
So why was it repealed?
Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, noted that proponents have been telling West Virginians that repealing the act will lower electricity rates and create coal jobs, saying of constituents, "They’ve been promised they’re going to receive these benefits from the repeal of this act."
However, he noted that House leadership blocked a request for an economic impact study that would have been able to verify if those promises were being kept. Senate leadership also turned down a similar study request for the Senate’s version of the bill.
(We don’t need no stinkin’ studies – trust us, it’ll lower rates and create jobs!)
More to the point:
Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, said the bill relies on "myths" about job creation, elimination of "cap-and-trade" mandates, and lower electricity rates.
"In the last election, these myths were used as a club," said Fleischauer, who voted against the bill.
Let’s see, the legislature repealed a law that was originally backed by the coal industry and the electric companies and passed with bipartisan support, to prove how much they love coal, coal miners, and coal-generated electricity. So who are the winners in all of this? First, the politicians who can now say that there first legislative act was to attack the "war on coal." Additionally, the AP suggests another Republican benefit – it can be used against Manchin in the next election:
The GOP is also trying use the law against Manchin, since he may run for governor again. Last election, right-leaning groups criticized state candidates for the law, though many Republicans also voted for it.
A couple of other groups should also be happy with the repeal – from sustainablebusiness.com:
Congratulations, ALEC and Koch Brothers - your hard work is starting to pay off.
West Virginia is the first state to completely repeal its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) - its incentives for renewable energy. . . .
ALEC and Americans for Prosperity are working hard across the states to eliminate support for renewable energy. Last year, Ohio voted to freeze its RPS , which has already resulted in wind and solar companies leaving the state.
Push on, Republicans, push on!
The NRA and West Virginia's senatorial election
From time to time I hope to take a look at how money influences our local and statewide election.
Today I want to focus on one of the most powerful lobbying group in America – the National Rifle Association. The NRA spent a large amount of money, almost $28 million for and against senate and house candidates, and over $400,000 in West Virginia's last senatorial election. The $400,000 intrigued me because both Capito (R) and Tennant (D) were pro-gun - especially Tennant who went out of her way to verbally and visually tout her gun credentials. Not surprisingly, both had previously received an "A" rating from the NRA.
Given their ratings, you would think that the NRA would either spend equally on both candidate or, more likely, not bother because both were A-rated candidates. That would make sense if the NRA based campaign spending on a candidate’s record and campaign promises. However, in the last election, the NRA spent $114,000 for advertising in support of Capito and $287,000 in advertising against Tennant. (The NRA did not spend any money on pro-Tennant ads.) This matches what the NRA did nationally –
Total Independent Expenditures: $27,151,426
For Democrats: $17,943
Against Democrats: $16,222,441
For Republicans: $10,713,889
Against Republicans: $67,171
The NRA may be pro-gun but first and foremost they are pro-Republican - 99% of the NRA’s money supported Republicans. Maybe the "R" in NRA stands for Republican.
First order of business for the new legislature: let’s let the industry draft the new laws
Well, this didn’t take long and guess who thinks this is a great idea? From this morning’s Intelligencer editorial, "Utilizing Experts to Draft New Laws":
Both in state capitols and Congress, writing legislation traditionally has been the province of attorneys. The thought has been that they provide the necessary expertise in the law.
But West Virginia state Sen. Bill Cole has a better idea: Why not use experts in the subjects at hand?
Cole, R-Mercer, is expected to be the next president of the state Senate. Last week, he told our reporter the new Senate Energy Committee probably will employ an oil and gas industry expert rather than an attorney as its staff member.
Obviously, someone familiar with the subjects of bills the committee may deal with would be an asset. There are concerns - what about coal, for example? - but Cole's idea represents a refreshing new approach.
So the Republicans are going to get rid of the time-consuming middlemen - lobbyists and groups like ALEC – and just let the "expert" on the committee write the legislation? Oil and gas first and then possibly coal? When we get to coal, I’ve got just the man for the job. He has all kinds of experience in the coal industry (he headed a coal company for a long time but now he’s retired) and he certainly knows the kinds of legislation that would maximize profits. He does have a major felony indictment hanging over his head (a minor disadvantage) but I’m sure with the right enticements he would be willing to write legislation benficial to the coal companies.
A "refreshing new idea"? No, it’s an old idea with a slightly-different spin – industry "experts" have been writing our legislation since we became a state. In terms of natural resources, West Virginia has been and still is one of the richest states in the nation. But its citizens are among this country’s poorest. That’s no accident.
Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker asks "What's the Matter with West Virginia?"
Toobin discusses West Virginia's recent election, coal mining, and Don Blankenship in a look at some of the contradictions in our recent election:
To endorse coal is not necessarily to endorse the alleged perfidies of Don Blankenship. But it is true that the charges against Blankenship only came to light because he was so aggressive in fighting the regulations that Capito and other Republicans so despise.
It’s a good bet that a majority of the Massey miners, whose lives Blankenship may have placed in jeopardy and whom the federal bureaucrats were trying to protect, voted Republican. (In Raleigh County, where the Upper Big Branch mine is located, lt Capito got sixty-two per cent of the vote.) Fairly or not, white voters in West Virginia appear to regard the Democratic Party as an alien force—élitist, condescending, bureaucratic, out of touch, and perhaps, unduly diverse.
Mother Jones has an article that won't surprise anyone who has lived here very long: "29 Coal Miners Died in a 2010 Explosion. Congress Still Hasn't Fixed the Problem."
After discussing the Blankenship indictment, it notes:
In addition, Republicans capitalized on an electorate resentful of President Obama’s environmental policies, which have received little support in a state where coal mining has long played a big part in the economy and in politics. Even with an open race for the presidency in two years, it’s doubtful that any Democratic hopeful could sway a large number of voters in state contests.But the indictment also came as a sobering reminder: In the four years since the disaster, little has been done to make the mining industry safer. Legislation designed to rein in the worst offenders and give regulators teeth was beaten back by big business. Meanwhile, tens of millions of dollars in safety fines have gone uncollected.
Finally, today's New York Times tells us "Election Was Rough for Democrats. It Was Worse for West Virginia Democrats."
While the article does not offer what I would consider fresh insight, it does suggest how the national media see what happened in the state.
In addition, Republicans capitalized on an electorate resentful of President Obama’s environmental policies, which have received little support in a state where coal mining has long played a big part in the economy and in politics. Even with an open race for the presidency in two years, it’s doubtful that any Democratic hopeful could sway a large number of voters in state contests.
WV Senator Joe Manchin has been very busy lately. If you watch television news or read about what’s happening in Washington, you may have seen pictures of him yesterday with Senator Heidi Heitcamp supposedly trying to save fellow Democratic senator Mary Landrieu’s job by voting with the Republicans in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline. (I don’t think that’s only reason they voted that way.)
Yesterday’s local paper had yet another editorial praising him – this time for not supporting their #2 most-evil-person-in-the-world, Harry Reid, for Minority Leader. The editorial did not mention, however, Joe’s co-authored op-ed piece for Monday’s Wall Street Journal. The piece, "The Fed Needs Governors Who Aren’t Wall Street Insiders (With two vacancies to fill, Obama should pick nominees who will look out for Main Street, not the big banks)" says what the long title indicates:
. . . the Federal Reserve—our first line of defense against another financial crisis—seems more worried about protecting Wall Street than protecting Main Street. Fortunately, this is one problem the Obama administration can start fixing today by nominating the right people to fill the two vacancies on the Fed’s Board of Governors.
And while the piece is probably a bit too populist for their liking, my hunch is that our local editors ignored it because the co-author is Elizabeth Warren, currently #3 on the Intelligencer’s most-hated-person list. Hmmm. For most of the year, almost any mention of Natalie Tennant in the Intelligencer meant that you could bet that she would immediately be connected to all those "ultra-liberals" - Obama, Reid and Warren. This week, Manchin co-authors a WSJ piece with Warren and not a single word is written -- he gets his usual free pass. Not too hypocritical.
As I suggested, Joe has been keeping busy. The Hill reports that Democrat Manchin will soon be giving up his position on the Senate Banking Committee so that newly-elected Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito can take his place and keep those big bucks from the big banks flowing her way. It’s not hard to see this as yet another indicator that Joe will soon be switching parties.
Cartoon by John Jonik (see more at http://jonikcartoons.blogspot.com/)
What about Democratic Party candidates in coal states actually doing something beyond parroting the Republicans?
From blogger Willnois from Daily Kos:
Democrats have two choices:
1) Run candidates who make unconvincing appeals that they're just as pro-coal as the Republican and continue losing year after year while never changing the conventional wisdom.
2) Talk about creating new energy economies in a way that builds support to win next time.
Political parties don't like to think beyond the next upcoming election, but it's going to take a long term strategy for Democrats to regain ground in post-coal country. Running on a new message may not work right away, but hey, the pro-coal Democrat is going to lose anyway. You might as well build for the future by honestly telling people we have to attract new energy jobs because the old coal jobs are never coming back .
It's only a matter of how long it takes party leaders to accept that fossil fuel Democrats aren't coming back either.
And yesterday's Charleston Gazette carried this op-ed piece from Jim Lees:
So in light of the recent election results, I ask a very simple question. What was the philosophy of the State Democrat Party that was the heart and soul of its persuasion strategy over the past 10 years? What were the opinions and biases the Democrat Party wished the people ofWest Virginia would form?
There was no philosophy. The thoughts and opinions of the West Virginia electorate are today a reflection of a well-executed Republican persuasion strategy boosted by Democratic candidates who in their zeal to win ran campaigns that simply chased the polls and boosted the Republican message. And because this vacuum of leadership failed to articulate a philosophy through a well-executed persuasion plan, November 4, 2014, became the date of death for the West Virginia Democrat Party.
And Joe Manchin still plans to play nice with the Republicans
As Talking Points Memo notes, Joe Manchin appears to be edging closer to the Republican Party:
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) made it clear in an interview published Monday that he has no plans to support Democrats who want to take a page out of the GOP playbook by obstructing the new Republican majority.
"That's bullshi—…. I'm not going to put up with that," Manchin told Politico when discussing the prospect of Democrats blocking the Republican agenda over the next two years.
Of course not, Joe. And here's a much more cynical take from Charlie Pierce:
So, naturally, the kidz went in search of the party's "centrist" intelligentsia because the most important thing in Washington now is to find enough Democrats who will go along with Republican ideas so everybody can "get along" and "gridlock" will end and the dinner parties and cocktail hours won't be so uncomfortable. So, come on down, Joe Manchin (D-Anthracite), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-GunsNAmmo), the maitre d's of the Appomattox Bar And Grille.
What's the future of health care in West Virginia?
Finally, there’s the future of health care in America and more specifically, West Virginia. It's still not certain but there appears to be some hope that it will survive in something close to its present form on the national level. (That is, if it survives the Supreme Court’s next decision on it.) I haven’t found much speculation on what might happen in West Virginia given the Republican takeover of both chambers. One diary-writer at dailykos.com does write:
West Virginia, too, seems to be putting Medicaid repeal on the back burner. Probably soon-to-be Republican state House Speaker Tim Armstead doesn't include Medicaid in this list of priorities which include "education reform, legal reform, infrastructure and tax and budget issues." Of course, it could sneak in on that "budget issues" line, but since for now the federal government is picking up 100 percent of the tab, it would be a hard case to make. Particularly since more than 150,000 West Virginians are now insured because of it.
Myer gets this one right
Regular readers of this blog are probably stunned that I would agree with any Michael Myer’s column. Myer, in his Saturday column, argues that WV’s political spending law is being ignored. Surprisingly, he support all of his points and the column is balanced and free of any name-calling or guilt-by-associations. Myer writes:
After all, knowing that "X" group spent money in a race involving "A" candidate is of limited use without being told whether the funds were spent to support or oppose the person.
That's how much of the independent expenditure information on West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant's website is presented, with dollar amounts and candidates' names but without notes on support or opposition. You may have thought as I did that there ought to be a law requiring organizations to report whether they supported or opposed specific candidates.
There is. It just wasn't being observed until a few days before the election Tuesday.
The good news is that the law was being ignored in bipartisan fashion. Neither groups supporting Democrats nor those backing Republicans were being required to comply.
I’ve spent some time on the site and Myer's description is accurate. He's right and I agree - candidates need to follow the law.
It's time to blame Obama and Reid
A headline on the front page of today’s (Saturday) morning Intelligencer tells us that Joe Manchin believes that "Dems Lost Public Trust." Continuing his weeklong lecture on why the Democrats were losers on Tuesday, he’s dropped his Mountaineer football analogy and instead focused on the President and Harry Reid. (Good move, Joe – that guaranteed that you would make the front page.) Manchin also said that the outcome "is one that was not predicted – or believed to have been possible." (I guess he’s been without access to any media for the last month.) Finally, Manchin reiterated that he had no interest in switching parties preferring that both parties move toward the middle and "away from their radical fringes." (Someone needs to tell Joe about the political views of some of those Republicans who won on Tuesday – they certainly sound like they can’t wait to work and compromise with the Democrats!) As for switching parties, I still think, despite his protestations, that he’s seriously considering it. If he does it, he’ll wait for the right moment and then blame it on Obama and Reid and tell us how it’s the only thing he can do to look after the best interests of West Virginians.