The First 100 Hours
Pray for Congress
December 30, 2006
Arise, cry aloud in the night At the beginning of the night watches;
Pour out your heart like water Before the presence of the Lord;
Lift up your hands to Him For the life of your little ones
Lord willing, the 110th Congress convenes in five days. The House is expected to elect its first ever woman Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the Democrats will assume control of both chambers of Congress.
The House Democrats have laid out an ambitious agenda for the first 100 legislative hours of the new Congress. They plan on hitting the ground running! This update will review what those items are, and then unpack them in a little more detail.
A New Direction
We will start by cleaning up Congress, breaking the link between lobbyists and legislation and commit to pay-as-you-go, no new deficit spending.
We will make our nation safer and we will begin by implementing the recommendations of the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission.
We will make our economy fairer, and we will begin by raising the minimum wage. We will not pass a pay raise for Congress until there is an increase in the minimum wage.
We will make health care more affordable for all Americans, and we will begin by fixing the Medicare prescription drug program, putting seniors first by negotiating lower drug prices.
We will also promote stem cell research to offer real hope to the millions of American families who suffer from devastating diseases.
We will broaden college opportunity, and we will begin by cutting interest rates for student loans in half.
We will energize America by achieving energy independence, and we will begin by rolling back the multi-billion dollar subsidies for Big Oil.
We will guarantee a dignified retirement, and we will begin by fighting any attempt to privatize Social Security.
A Closer Look
To say that the Democrats have a little pent up energy would be an understatement. Most of these issues are very complex and encompass issues that have been months and years in the making.
Therefore, we want to state at the outset that any attempt we make trying to unpack these eight issues in a summary fashion runs the risk of oversimplifying their complexity. Our intention here is to inform you on the issues enough to pray with understanding.
Lobbying Reform (Caution!)
First Order of Business
"ABCNews' George Stephanopoulos reports: "Several Democratic leadership sources say that lobbying reform will be the first order of business for House Democrats when Rep. Nancy Pelosi becomes Speaker in January. The new rules will include a total ban on gifts from lobbyists and a total ban on travel paid for by lobbyists. These changes will be included in new rules package expected to pass the first week of January."
Most of the provisions in this legislation are directed at correcting the problems in the "Culture of Corruption" against which the Democrats successfully campaigned in the November 2006 elections. This legislation is likely to be an encore of legislative efforts passed last Spring (S. 2349/H.R. 4975).
One particular type of language in this bill to pray over is anything touching grassroots lobbying. This is basically an attempt by members of Congress to shield themselves from any influence whatsoever from those who elected them.
FRC's Dave Christensen explained, "In a nutshell, the amendment on grassroots lobbying would regulate efforts by organizations to contact real citizens to petition their elected members of Congress." So, instead of protecting your First Amendment rights to petition your government, your government is trying to regulate its citizens as lobbyists.
- Pray lobbying reform passes.
- Pray the provisions regarding grassroots lobbying are not included.
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one (Psalm 14:3,53:3; Romans 3:12).
This is not a proposed law. This is a rule Congress intends to impose on itself to restrain how it spends money. Originally part of the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990, pay-as-you-go budget enforcement rules intend to halt deficit growth by not allowing any new tax cuts without spending cuts, nor new spending increases without tax increases.
Pay-as-you-go budget rules are an improvement over the void of fiscal discipline in recent years. However, they are not a cure-all. They do not apply to all spending--just new spending--and they do not specifically control the growth of our national debt.
Blue Dog Democrat "Mike Ross of Arkansas, co-chairman for communications, said the group was pleased that Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had included the restoration of pay-as-you-go budget rules as part of her 'first 100 hours plan.' But he also warned, 'We plan to work with our party leadership ... but we're not going to be a rubber stamp for anyone. We're going to help bring our party back to the middle'" (CQ Today Midday Update, 11/16/2006).
- Praise the Lord for this restoration of fiscal restraint by our leaders.
Rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil (Romans 13:3).
9/11 Commission Recommendations
As we discuss our continuing efforts to secure our liberty, it is important to keep in mind that Democrats, Republicans and everything else outside and in between are all Americans. The objective is not a partisan one.
The 9/11 Commission, created by Congress in November 2002 (P.L. 107-306), issued its report in July 2004 including 41 recommendations to Congress, and closed in August 2004. Members of the Commission subsequently formed the non-governmental, non-profit 9/11 Public Discourse Project to follow up on the Commission's original recommendations and issued a series of report cards on those 41 recommendations (1-page summary PDF).
As the new majority ramps up discussion of the 9/11 Commission Recommendations, there are three things to keep in mind: what has already been done, the lack of specificity in the recommendations, and which recommendations the new Congress plans to ignore.
For purposes of elections and campaigns, the broad theme of "implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations" sounds great rhetorically, yet it vastly oversimplifies the process of actually doing that.
The Congressional Research Service published a 73-page report, 9/11 Commission Recommendations: Implementation Status that "provides a review of the 9/11 Commission recommendations and the status of their implementation at the end of the 109th Congress" divided into 25 "policy themes" that each include detailed sections on Congressional responses.
While there remains much to do, Congress has done a lot already.
Policy vs. Legislation
The 9/11 Commission did not propose any legislation, nor even which laws should be changed; they simply proposed policy changes. Policy is the end result of how power ultimately comes together after it has been separated among the three branches and divided between federal, state, and local authorities. Congress only legislates and appropriates money. The President and the Administration determine, within the confines of the law, how those laws will be executed and where that money gets spent.
This explains why, as the CRS Report notes, "Due to the complexity and broad scope of directives laid out by the 9/11 Commission Report, it has been difficult for the U.S. government, including Congress, to address all of the various policy problems and solutions to the challenge of Islamic extremism," and the same can be said for many of the other recommendations.
Take, for instance, the recommendation of interoperable communications during emergencies. The Department of Homeland Security showed earlier this month, the executive branch definitely has a big role in implementing this recommendation.
On the whole, it is our expectation the new House majority will pass legislation that will at least touch on each of the recommendations not yet attempted by Congress in order to live up to the letter of its promise, but will fall far short of completely fulfilling the designs of the 9/11 Commission.
Due to the vast amount of room for variations in interpretation, such as free trade, it seems likely that the lack of specificity in the recommendations will mean that whoever is in the minority will always find the recommendations not fully implemented. That said, it is not our belief that the Congress should necessarily cede its oversight responsibilities to an unelected commission.
Under the new Democratic Leadership, Congress is already declaring it will implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations for everyone except itself. From The Washington Post:
Democrats Reject Key 9/11 Panel Suggestion
It was a solemn pledge, repeated by Democratic leaders and candidates over and over: If elected to the majority in Congress, Democrats would implement all of the recommendations of the bipartisan commission that examined the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
- Pray for wisdom for our leaders as they seek to fend off those who wish to destroy our freedom.
And they will live in it securely; and they will build houses, plant vineyards, and live securely, when I execute judgments upon all who scorn them round about them. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God (Ezekiel 28:26).
Minimum Wage - Laws in the States
This issue has largely reached consensus status, and is very likely to pass. While there is much to be said about hourly wages in general, there is not much to add to this part of the Democrats program.
The rhetoric used about some people "not getting a raise in nine years" is a little overblown. While a "living wage" is important, very few people working for minimum wage have actually been working at that rate for nine years. As Rep. Jack Kingston has pointed out, "52 percent of the people on minimum wage are teenagers."
At a recent press conference, President Bush said, "I support the proposed $2.10 increase in the minimum wage over a two-year period. I believe we should do it in a way that does not punish the millions of small businesses that are creating most of the new jobs in our country. So I support pairing it with targeted tax and regulatory relief to help these small businesses stay competitive and to help keep our economy growing."
- Pray for justice for the laborers in this country and those around world.
- Pray that a raise in the minimum wage does not discourage teenagers from finishing high school.
- Pray for a separate minimum wage for students under 18 that, perhaps, creates an incentive to stay in school.
The laborer is worthy of his wages (Luke 10:7, 1 Timothy 5:18).
Speaking of high school, CBS News reported on an innovative and surprisingly non-controversial program in North Carolina that creates "Early Colleges" by putting high schools on college campuses. Students can take high school classes, college classes, earn a high school diploma and an associate's degree, all for free by the time they're 18! Some students are studying academics, getting vocational training and holding down a job at the same time.
Health Care - Medicare Part D
Negotiating Lower Drug Prices
Like implementing all the 9/11 Commission recommendations, this is another promise in the High on Rhetoric, Low on Substance department. From The Washington Post:
Success of Drug Plan Challenges Democrats
It sounded simple enough on the campaign trail: Free the government to negotiate lower drug prices and use the savings to plug a big gap in Medicare's new prescription-drug benefit. But as Democrats prepare to take control of Congress, they are struggling to keep that promise without wrecking a program that has proven cheaper and more popular than anyone imagined.
Health Savings Accounts
Shift in Congress Puts Health Care Back on the Table
Expecting a Mixed Reaction Across the Aisle, Democrats Plan to Offer Ideas on Drug Cost, Safety
At this point, it would be helpful to point out that the original Medicare Part D law (P.L. 108-173) which created the contested prescription drug program, also included the creation of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). These have also proven to be quite popular, and are rapidly growing every year.
HSAs and other similar programs are an important part of a larger consumer driven health plan strategy. Here are a few links to help you learn more about HSAs and how you can control how your health care money is spent:
Last week, President Bush signed into law provisions from H.R. 6134, The Health Opportunity Patient Empowerment Act (P.L. 109-432, Division A, Title III).
On this new law, HSA Clearing Corporation President Tim Morales said, "These provisions are simple, common-sense improvements to HSAs that will help more Americans take advantage of the great benefits that HSAs offer" which include finding "affordable health insurance for the first time."
- Pray that in all the discussions around health care in this country, that the end result would be that individuals would retain their liberty in decision-making about healing.
Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them; and I will reveal to them an abundance of peace and truth (Jeremiah 33:6).
Embryonic Stem Cell Research (Not Good)
We covered this issue extensively last Summer before and after President Bush cast his only veto ever (thus far) against a bill that would have shifted money away from fruitful research on adult stem cells and to fruitless research on embryonic stem cells. Please refer to those updates for extensive information on this issue.
The only thing we wish to add at this time is a comment by Wesley J. Smith: "I credit President Bush for at least some of the focus and success we are seeing from non embryonic sources. Remember, back in 2001, political-scientists were saying the real action was embryonic. That did not prove to be true, and perhaps some of these wonderful advances were made because Bush kept the ethics of these matters forefront, allowing resources and energy to be invested that might otherwise have been diverted by the stampede to do ESCR."
- Pray that Congress would vigorously fund fruitful adult stem cell research.
- Pray that Congress would not fund life-taking embryonic stem cell research.
- Pray that if Congress funds embryonic stem cell research that President Bush would veto it.
- Pray that if President Bush vetoes funding for embryonic stem cell research, that there would not be enough votes in the House, nor in the Senate to override his veto.
[Hezekiah] removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah (2 Kings 18:4).
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14)
College Education, Student Loans (Caution!)
The Democratic promise here is to "broaden college opportunity" by first "cutting interest rates for student loans in half." Loans are what less fortunate students get going into college. Debt is what those students get coming out of college. Education is good. Debt is bondage.
Student Debt is not caused by education, but by schooling. It's a growing problem, too, that is increasingly making news. Multiple Web sites have popped up such as Debt Hits Hard, Project on Student Debt, Student Debt Alert, and others.
Former University President William Chase wrote an "honest talk" that he "was never able to give incoming freshman" saying, "like car dealers, we force you to borrow money," and "Once you leave us, you'll have a better chance for a good job and a way to pay off your debt and to give us more money when we call on you as alumni."
USA Today and ABC News ran a series of stories beginning last month, "Young and in Debt" (print, video) including Twenty-Somethings Drowning in a Sea of Bills. The question young graduates ask themselves today is, "Will I have my student loans paid off by the time I retire?"
A growing number of college graduates are waking up to the reality that their degree may not be giving (through promised income) as much as it is taking (through debt).
While a college degree is certainly helpful in today's job market, and this writer is indeed grateful for his college degree, advanced and/or multiple degrees of education are certainly not necessarily essential to success.
Many people are entering the workforce today without schooling, ready to build an education by personal experience. They realized early there comes a time when schooling must end, and self-education takes over. A lifestyle of education and a lifestyle of schooling (and debt) are not synonymous.
Educated people and leaders make decisions and read books. As David Noebel says, "Leaders are readers." Josh Kaufman is conducting "an experiment in educational entrepreneurism." He has put together a program called the Personal MBA, "a low cost way to educate yourself about business" built on a reading list of "42 books and periodicals."
- Pray that people would consider viable alternatives for their education.
- Pray that Congress would not encourage people to go into debt.
- Pray that more states would emulate North Carolina's model for academic and vocational education (See item #3 above).
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law (Romans 13:8).
Ronald J. Sutherland of the Cato Institute wrote, "The evidence indicates that, on balance, the oil industry is not a net beneficiary of government subsidies," and "The oil industry is more harmed than helped by government intervention in energy markets" (Full PDF).
On the other hand, the Union of Concerned Scientists says, "Oil industry subsidies further our dangerous dependence on foreign oil supplies and burden taxpayers with unacceptable costs to human health, the environment, and the economy."
Cited by Columnist Umbra Fisk, "According to a 2004 report [PDF] from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, bigger breaks from 2001 to 2003 went to the aerospace, transportation, industrial and farm equipment, telecommunications, and electronics industries."
- Pray that the United States will find and use more home-grown sources of energy.
The energetic prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (James 5:16).
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21).
This part of the Democrats program is unique in that it is specifically defined by what they are against.
Social Security is broken. Everyone knows this. Even former President Bill Clinton, as quoted by Former Commerce Secretary Peter Peterson in his book Running on Empty, said, "You and I know that this is a pure cash-in, cash-out program and that it will be draining revenue from the Treasury decades before the formal bankruptcy date. We have to act soon" (Page 39).
Sometime during the last Congress, President Bush announced he would only talk about options for fixing Social Security that included private investment accounts. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid followed that up by saying, they would only talk about options for fixing Social Security that did not include private accounts. Voila: Gridlock!
On its current course, without changing anything, the Social Security Trust Fund is set to exhaust sometime between 2035 and 2050--distant years that hardly set off alarm bells for a Congress that runs from 2007-2008. Social Security turns from running a surplus to a deficit in 2018--still more than 10 years away.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, told C-SPAN's Brian Lamb, "I think the point where this really hits is 2010" because in "2010, Social Security's surplus peaks." That's the last year "money coming in exceeds money going out. And every year after that it's going to get tighter for every Congress." That, friends, is three short years away.
Social Security took a giant step toward insolvency in 30 years ago. Peter Peterson, now chairman of the Concord Coalition, writes, "In 1977 Congress instituted wage-indexing to set new benefits. And it's been wage-indexing ever since. This, in combination with yearly 100 percent COLA (Cost of Living) adjustments for benefits already awarded, means that Social Security benefits become continually more generous even as the relative number of workers available to pay for these benefits declines" (Page 199).
To fix the problem, Peterson noted, "President Bush's own Commission to Strengthen Social Security projected that indexing new benefits to prices would more than eliminate Social Security's long-term deficit" (Page 200).
As appealing as private accounts may be for anyone in the middle of their career or younger, this shows they may not be all that necessary to preserve the system.
The problems with Social Security are small by comparison to the problems with Medicare. "Social Security is Grenada," USA Today quotes Holtz-Eakin. "Medicare is Vietnam."
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) said, "We have an unfunded liability for Medicare of $37 trillion right now, an unfunded liability for Social Security of $10 trillion. That's more unfunded liability than the nation's private net worth."
"Congressional Budget Office projections, based on optimistic assumptions about future medical inflation, show that Medicare and Medicaid together will account for more federal spending than Social Security as soon as 2010" wrote Peterson.
"Medicare is a far more complex system than Social Security. Unlike Social Security, we cannot focus our reform just on a single benefit formula. Medicare pays out benefits according to literally thousands of complex benefit formulas, for different hospitals and physicians and for different treatments and regions.
"Because Medicare is such a massive purchaser of health care services ($275 billion in 2003), its biases, preferences, rewards and penalties have themselves reshaped the whole medical industrial complex over time. To talk about reforming Medicare, then, is also at some level to talk about reforming the way we practice medicine and think about health in America.
"In the final analysis, this is what makes Medicare reform so daunting: not only does it constitute a much bigger fiscal challenge, but it also raises far more profound, vexing, and even toxic issues--ethical, philosophical, moral, and, indeed, life-and-death issues" (Page 205).
This is why Health Savings Accounts are so important: they enlist the help of every citizen that has one in keeping medical costs down. (See item #4 above.)
- Pray for wisdom for our leaders.
- Pray that America elects godly leaders in the years to come.
- Pray that our leaders would honor God as they make those ethical, philosophical, moral, and life-and-death decisions.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD Than to trust in princes (Psalm 118:9).
Perhaps in a burst of oversimplification, NBC political analyst Charlie Cook "writes of Pelosi's non-controversial priorities for the first 100 legislative hours, 'If this is the direction Democrats choose to go, and they have the discipline to resist temptation to take the hard left, they have a chance to do very well. But if they give in to their hearts as opposed to their heads, this majority will last exactly 24 months'" (First Read).
Not part of the First 100 Hours
"Absent" from House Democrats' list of priorities for their first 100 hours in the majority, the Washington Post notes, "are the knottiest problems that bedeviled the outgoing Congress, including immigration, domestic surveillance and the war in Iraq... The go-slow strategy carries some risks, the analysts say, because restless voters may see the new Congress as having no more boldness or problem-solving skills than the 'do-nothing Congress' denounced ... this fall. But Democratic leaders probably are correct in sensing that Americans will give them several months to tackle the stickiest issues, such as Iraq and immigration" (via First Read).
Biden to Fight Iraq Troop Buildup
Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday that he would oppose any plan by President Bush to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
We are near 3,000 members of our armed forces killed in Iraq which will undoubtedly renew the rallying cry to withdrawal from Iraq.
Retired Major General John Batiste on Mobilizing this Country
"We're fighting a protracted war against the Jihadists. And these people mean business. They have as a stated objective the destruction of our way of life." His key points:
What's going on in Iraq is the first phase of a long-term struggle that this nation needs to come to grips with pretty quickly.
Iraq is but phase one in this whole effort. This could go on for decades.
- We need to mobilize this country
- We need to properly resource the Army and the Marine Corps.
- We need to get serious about funding this war--some kind of a war tax.
We're looking for the rule of law to take root in Iraq.
Here's what I suggest:
- get the Iraqi security forces stood up
- stop the flow of the insurgency
- stop the militias
We're fighting a war against the Jihadists.
We can't just leave Iraq. [If we do,] our country is affected enormously.
Bringing the issues back around to all things political, NBC political analyst Charlie Cook wrote in his CongressDaily column that one of the smartest Republicans he knows "posited that by siding with the 44 Blue Dog Democrats, the about-200 House GOP members might actually end up with more conservative measures passing the House than if they did the bidding of the White House, which would likely end up compromising with Democratic congressional leaders" (First Read).
During the first full week of the 110th Congress, the differences between the Senate and the House of Representatives could hardly be more apparent. Don't look for any dramatic burst of legislative activity. In fact, look for quite the opposite.
Senators to Gather in Closed Meeting
Senate Democrats, who campaigned on a pledge of more openness in government, will kick off the 110th Congress with a closed meeting of all 100 senators in the Capitol.
The gathering "will allow senators an opportunity to meet before the Senate is in session and before any official legislative business is considered," Reid's office said. "The American people made clear they are tired of partisanship and gridlock in Washington."
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said yesterday: "All we're trying to do is establish a dialogue as we start the next Congress. ... It's obvious from recent years that the current system is not working. We need to foster some different ways to make this place work."
First Read reports this will be "the first such joint meeting since Bill Clinton's impeachment."
- Pray that God would use this rare private meeting to encourage real communication and dialogue among our leaders in the Senate.
Counselors of peace have joy (Proverbs 12:20).
Once the Senate emerges for legislative business, "'Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to begin his legislative push for a lobbying and ethics overhaul with a GOP-authored bill that was derided by outside watchdog groups as unacceptable, which may set up a showdown with House Democrats over how far reforms should go,' Roll Call reports. The bill also falls short of changes proposed by presidential contenders McCain and Obama" reports First Read.
McCain did however express his support for limited government and the rule of law, traditional conservative ideas that played well with his audience, "We are a nation that limits government so that government cannot limit us," he said, reports ABC News Political Radar. We would add, "except when it comes to how that government allows the people to shape that government." It was his bill (S. 2349) that does the exact opposite and renders everyday citizens as lobbyists (see House item #1 above).
- Pray lobbying reform passes.
- Pray the provisions regarding grassroots lobbying are not included.
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one (Psalm 14:3,53:3; Romans 3:12).
This one item in the Senate could easily consume the entire first full week of floor time if not a significant portion of January. That's not to say there won't be other activity in committee; that we will save for another update!
Pray for Congress
Live Floor Updates,