Thursday, June 25, 2009

Another Political Affair, Stimulus Update, Congress Heads to Recess

Just Another Couple All-Too-Human Politicians
I had intentionally withheld comment on the affair revelation of Senator John Ensign (R-NV) as I generally find it extremely distasteful to psychoanalyze the personal lives of politicians. But, the revelation this week of Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) that he has also been having an affair with a woman in Argentina, not to mention the bizarre set of circumstances surrounding it, compels me to make a few observations about the political implications of these revelations.

First, let me state unequivocally that I feel the personal affairs of these men should be none of our business. We we elect leaders, we hire people to do a job, whether it is Governor, Senator or President. It is not a fair or reasonable expectation that we hold them accountable for everything that happens in their personal life. Relationships and marriage are complex enough, that far be it from me to presume to be able to judge the personal decisions of someone that I have never even met.

In the case of Governor Sanford, there is clearly a job-performance issue in that no one in government knew his whereabouts for days. It's a bad thing, for sure, but absent the affair, I'm not sure it would be damning. And Senator Ensign had an affair that did not impact his job in any way.

Having stated my personal views, let me also state that I fully understand that this is not how the game is played. While I don't agree with it, it is abundantly clear that such things obviously have an impact on political futures. This is especially true in the Republican Party, where those who strongly promote "traditional values" and appeal to Christian Conservatives add the element of personal hypocrisy in addition to the gory details.

The reality is that both men are finished as far as national ambitions are concerned. Senator Ensign was considered a rising star in the party and Governor Sanford had been considered a 2012 prospect. No more. Senator Ensign may or may not retain his job in the future (he isn't up in 2010), Governor Sanford is almost certainly done in politics after his term expires at the beginning of 2011.

I never loved either of these guys politically, but I feel sorry for them personally. The standards that we hold our politicians to are ridiculous. How many Fortune 500 CEO's would pass the same tests? Something has to give before every potential great leader steers clear of politics and all we are left with is blowhard ideologues. Remember, "Honest" Abe Lincoln got his nickname for repaying a debt to a hooker and John F. Kennedy had more affairs than years as President. Would we be better off if we had disqualified them from office?

Stimulus Update
Latest numbers from the Feds:
Authorized: $152.4 billion (30.5%) up $5.2 billion from last week
Spent: $52.9 billion (10.6%) up $4.0 billion from last week

The gap between authorized projects and spent money continues to grow. Transportation spending continues to lag with only $370 million spent so far, but $153 million of that is in the past week, so the pace has definitely accelerated.

Congress Heads to Recess -- Health Care Very Much in Question
Congress is headed to its 4th of July recess with a lot of unfinished business to complete this summer. There is the nomination of to the Supreme Court of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. There are all of the appropriations bills for the fiscal year that starts in October and there is that whole health care issue, which will likely wind up being intertwined with a heated debate over the HHS appropriations bills.

So far, appropriation actions have been taken as follows:
Senate -- no action on any bills (all bills must originate in the House, per the constitution)
(1) Commerce & Justice
After Democratic leaders decided to limit amendments and debate, the GOP cried foul but was basically powerless to stop the movement of the bill (House rules do not give nearly the latitude to stall to the minority that Senate rules do.)

Final Vote: 259-157
Date Passed: June 18th
Partisanship Index: 0.83 (fairly partisan)

(2) Legislative Branch
A tiny bill in the grand scheme of things, but subject of much grand-standing about congressional spending.

Final Vote: 232-178
Date Passed: June 19th
Partisanship Index: 0.78 (fairly partisan)

(3) Homeland Security
A bill with lots of amendments but surprisingly high bipartisanship

Final Vote: 389-37
Date Passed: June 24th
Partisanship Index: 0.21 (highly bipartisan)

(4) Defense
Few amendments and broad bipartisanship

Final Vote: 389-22 with 1 voting "Present"
Date Passed: June 25th
Partisanship Index: 0.07 (highly bipartisan)

(5) Interior
Consideration begins tomorrow

Yet to be debated: Health and Human Services (likely to include Universal Healthcare debate), Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Defense, Education, Energy (likely to include Cap and Trade debate), Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Transportation and Treasury.

That's a lot of work to do since both houses have to pass a bill then repass the conference report. And major, game-changing debates to be had. But, hey, Congress never got a budget in place last year, so at least things are moving along.

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