Obama Just Doesn't Get It – Immigration Standoff and Elections

Editor’s Note – “Elections have consequences,” remember that Obama quote? Apparently only when he and his team win!

Obama just doesn’t get how things must work by law and Constitution – either consciously or by complete disregard. It has always been his way or the highway where negotiation is never done in an honest manner and compromise means “I will sign it, if it meets my needs.” People keep echoing that Congress must do the work of the people, but it is Obama who is in the way.

Last Tuesday America voted – completely repudiating his policies – yet Obama traipses on as if he was the one who received the mandate. In this lame-duck period in Congress, he expects sweeping, comprehensive legislation on immigration, yet America voted otherwise and does not want the current Senate to control this ‘end times’ effort.

So what does Obama threaten – yes, Executive action. America, this is a very well-crafted article and worthy of a complete read. It spells out what Boehner and the House was always up against – a stone wall.

Boehner Warns Obama Against Unilateral Action on Immigration

The House Speaker and the President Held a Year of Confidential Talks on Immigration That Ended in Failure This Summer

By CAROL E. LEE and PETER NICHOLAS – WSJ Online

Two days after his party’s midterm romp, House Speaker John Boehner became the second leading Republican to warn that unilateral action by President Barack Obama on immigration would “poison the well” for any cooperation with the new GOP Congress.

ObamaBoehnerImmigration

Among the causes of the standoff: a year of previously unreported talks between Messrs. Boehner and Obama over a legislative compromise to fix the balky immigration system.

The two men started talking after the 2012 election, according to detailed accounts provided by several aides on both sides. The discussions ended this summer with the two sitting stony-faced around a white wrought-iron table outside the Oval Office.

“When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself,” Mr. Boehner said Thursday of possible unilateral immigration action by the president. “And he’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell , the Kentucky Republican who is expected to lead the GOP’s new Senate majority, made similar admonitions a day earlier, setting the Republican legislative and Democratic executive agendas on a collision course. The immigration issue stands to imperil what had looked like a rare opportunity offered to find common ground on trade and business taxes, among other matters.

Mr. Obama vowed in his Wednesday postelection news conference to move ahead on immigration by himself, making changes that people close to the process say could give safe harbor to perhaps a few million people in the U.S. illegally.

At the White House, the question isn’t whether Mr. Obama will act but how sweeping his order will be. He is under intense pressure from immigration activists, who worry he will back down because of the election results or to avoid antagonizing the GOP.

Obama and Boehner in 2012 - negotiation outcome, read the body language.
Obama and Boehner in 2012 – negotiation outcome? Read the body language.

The White House isn’t ruling out an immigration deal with Congress before the next president takes office in 2017, and one remains possible. But in the eyes of many of those involved in the talks, the Obama-Boehner discussions were the last, best chance to reach an agreement.

Mr. Obama promised on Wednesday to rescind any executive action if Congress later passes legislation. Few think it is likely to. In outlining their plans for the year, neither Mr. Boehner nor Mr. McConnell put immigration on the agenda. In fact, if Mr. Obama goes through with an executive action, there will likely be a congressional effort to undo it.

The president and the House speaker started talking with some optimism after Congress’s bid to overhaul immigration ran aground in summer 2013, according to aides. They agreed to some confidence-building measures and bonded over a shared passion for golf.

Few people deny the scale of the immigration challenge, with about 11 million people in the U.S. illegally. Both sides had reason to keep the process alive. Hispanic supporters of Mr. Obama were growing impatient and resented record deportations. Some Republicans were seeking a fresh approach, especially after their 2012 election defeat, in which they fared poorly with Hispanics.

In an early sign of success, Mr. Boehner asked the president not to criticize Republicans on the issue, fearing this would antagonize lawmakers skeptical of an overhaul. Mr. Obama agreed, and a series of 2013 trips to battleground states with heavy Hispanic populations that had been considered never happened.

After several phone conversations, Mr. Obama agreed in November to seek a piecemeal overhaul rather than one bill as long as together it accomplished the goals of a broader bill. Democrats wanted the latter, but breaking it up would make the idea more palatable to the GOP.

They even batted around ideas for tackling the thorniest aspect: a so-called path to citizenship, which outlines the requirements illegal immigrants must meet to secure their place in the country.

More often, however, the two men talked past one another, aides said. Mr. Boehner told colleagues that he found it hard to squeeze a word in, and that Mr. Obama didn’t grasp how Washington works. Mr. Obama and White House officials grew skeptical that Mr. Boehner could sell any deal to House Republicans.

In January, Mr. Boehner asked the president to stop signing executive orders on other issues, such as the minimum wage, while they worked on a deal. The speaker thought such a gesture might appease Republican lawmakers accusing Mr. Obama of abusing presidential power.

“We can’t move forward on this when there’s mistrust about whether or not you’re going to enforce the laws that we pass,” Mr. Boehner told the president.

Some of the president’s aides thought it was a phony excuse. They thought the speaker couldn’t come through with the needed votes.

Mr. Obama offered Mr. Boehner what he saw as a compromise: The White House would defer executive action on immigration until after the summer to give the speaker maneuvering room, a deal Mr. Obama confirmed in his Wednesday news conference.

Obama is reportedly much better at negotiating than golf, ask Michael Jordan.
Obama is reportedly much better at negotiating than golf, ask Michael Jordan.

In the discussion, however, he followed up with his go-to talking point in dealings with Mr. Boehner: “There will never be another Republican president again if you don’t get a handle on immigration reform.”

Mr. Boehner resented getting advice from a Democratic president on how to make Republicans a viable political force. What he wanted was more specific: A strategy to build a coalition in the House that could pass a bill.

It became increasingly common, aides said, for Mr. Boehner to hang up the phone with Mr. Obama and sigh: “He just doesn’t get it.” Senior White House officials, for their part, saw Mr. Boehner as a leader perpetually vulnerable to being deposed. House conservatives wanted tougher border security, not millions of new citizens.

Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, who has close ties to the White House, described both men as working within tight limits. He described Mr. Boehner as having a fragile hold on his leadership position. As for the president, “he is not real comfortable in terms of building relationships with people he has substantial disagreements with.”

On a personal level, their conversations remained friendly. In September 2013, when Mr. Boehner was at the White House to discuss Syria, cameras caught the speaker gesturing with his wrist while deep in discussion with the president. Aides later explained Mr. Boehner had strained a tendon and couldn’t hit a golf ball as hard as he wanted.

A White House social invitation offered to Boehner—a Professional Golfers’ Association event in the East Room this June—was a turning point.

The speaker requested a meeting with the president before the event. That got the White House’s attention. Previously, it was Mr. Obama who initiated contact.

Seated around a table outside the Oval Office, Mr. Boehner told Mr. Obama that the window for passing legislation was as narrow as it gets. His caucus was rattled by a child-refugee crisis on the Mexico border and the primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor , in which immigration played a part.

During the 15-minute conversation, Mr. Boehner also informed Mr. Obama the House planned to file a lawsuit over his use of executive authority.

“Now you’re suing me?” Mr. Obama said to the speaker.

The following day Mr. Boehner announced his lawsuit. A week later, Mr. Obama publicly declared any change to the immigration system dead for the year. He blamed Mr. Boehner.

—Laura Meckler contributed to this article.

Farm Bill Hammered Out – Lee says, "We’re better than this"

Editor’s Note – Where are we as a country when a “farm bill” is 79.1% funding for non-farm issues? You guessed it, $756 billion out of a total $945.4 billion bill that was “hammered out by Congress” goes to Food Stamps and Nutrition Programs alone. The other 20.9% goes to crop insurance, commodities, and all other programs.

As Mike Lee says: “We are better than this!” This is a “compromise we can live with?”

The Farm Bill vs. America

From the official site of Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah

We’re better than this.

This Farm Bill is a monument to every dysfunction Washington indulges to bend our politics and twist our economy to benefit itself at the expense of the American people.

The topline talking point among defenders of this bill is the word “compromise.” “The Farm Bill,” we are told, “may be imperfect, but it’s a compromise we can all live with.”

They said, “Negotiators from both houses and both parties came together and hammered out a deal.”

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They said, “This is how you get things done in Washington.”

There is some truth in this. But it’s more of a half truth. There absolutely is compromise in this thousand-page, trillion-dollar mess. But it’s not a compromise between House Republicans and Senate Democrats.

No, it’s collusion between both parties against the American people, it benefits the special interests at the expense of the national interest.

This bill does not demonstrate how to do things in Washington, but how to do things for Washington.

The final product before us is not just a legislative vehicle – it’s a legislative getaway car.

And what did they get away with?farm bill_HomePageFixedWidth

Well, the Farm Bill is really two bills: one that spends about $200 billion to subsidize the agriculture industry, and another that spends $750 billion on the public assistance program previously known as Food Stamps.

The Farm Bill is thus a Beltway marriage of convenience between welfare and corporate welfare – ensuring the passage of both while preventing the reform of either.

Instead, Congress broke out the neck-bolts and sutures and put Frankenstein’s monster back together.

This was the year the Farm Bill was supposed to be different. This was supposed to be the year when we would finally split the bill into its logical, component pieces and subjected both of them to overdue scrutiny and reform.

This was the year we might have strengthened the Food Stamps program with work and other requirements for able-bodied adults, to help transition beneficiaries into full-time jobs.

This was the year we might have added an asset test, to make sure wealthy Americans with large personal bank accounts were no longer eligible for Food Stamps.

But those reforms aren’t here. Under this legislation, the Food Stamps program is not really reformed – just expanded. Once again, the give-and-take of compromise in Congress boils down to: the American people give, and Washington takes.

Yet if anything, Mr./Madam President, the other side of the bill is even worse.

Not only did the Conference Committee fail to reform programs subsidizing agriculture businesses, the Conference Committee removed many of the few improvements the House and Senate tried to include in the first place.

For instance, the Senate bill, for all its faults, included a novel provision to limit farm subsidies to actual farmers.

The Senate bill was also going to phase out crop insurance subsidies for wealthy individuals with an annual income of more than $750,000. Farmers who make three-quarters-of-a-million dollars a year, after all, should not need taxpayer assistance to keep their farms afloat.

The House bill included a transparency reform requiring members of Congress to disclose any subsidiesthey receive under the crop-insurance programs.

Yet all of the above reforms mysteriously disappeared from the final legislation.

And it’s not like the Farm Bill was a paragon of accountability and fairness to begin with. Agriculture policy follows a troubling trend in Washington: using raw political power to twist public policy against the American people, to profit political and corporate insiders.

For instance, under this legislation, the federal government will continue to force taxpayers to subsidize sugar companies, both in the law and at the grocery store.

This bill maintains the so-called “Dairy Cliff,” keeping dairy policy temporary.  This will create an artificial crisis the next time we take up a Farm Bill, which will once again undermine thoughtful debate and reform.

Perhaps of all the shiny ornaments hung on this special interest Christmas Tree, the shiniest may be the actual cronyist hand-out to the Christmas tree industry itself.

Under this Farm Bill, small, independent Christmas tree farmers will now be required to pay a special tax to a government-created organization controlled by larger, corporate producers, like some medieval tribute to feudal lords.

These costs will of course be passed on to working families, and so every December, Washington will in effect rob the Cratchits to pay Mr. Scrooge and his lobbyists in Washington.

And yet, Mr./Madam President, even all this is squeaky-clean, legislating compared to this Farm Bill’s most offensive feature, it’s bullying, disenfranchising shake-down of the American West.

Most Americans who live east of the Mississippi have no idea that most of the land west of the Great River is owned by the federal government. I don’t mean national parks and protected wilderness and the rest. We’ve got a lot of those, and we love them. But that’s a fraction of a fraction of the land I’m talking about.

I’m just talking about garden variety land, the kind that is privately owned in every neighborhood and community in the country.

More than 50% of all the land west of the Mississippi River is controlled by a federal bureaucracy and cannot be developed. No homes. No businesses. No communities or community centers. No farms or farmers markets. No hospitals or colleges or schools. No little league fields or playgrounds. Nothing.

In my own state, it’s 63% of the land. In Daggett County, it’s 81%. In Wayne, it’s 85%. In Garfield, it’s 90%. Ninety percent of their land… isn’t theirs.

In communities like these, financing local government is a challenge. There, like in the east, local government is funded primarily by property taxes.

FarmBill2014

Chart courtesy of the Washington Post

But in counties and towns where the federal government owns 70, 80, even 90% of all the land, there simply isn’t enough private property to tax to fund basic local services:

  • another sheriff’s deputy to police their streets;
  • another truck or ambulance to save their lives and property from fires;
  • another teacher to educate their children.

To compensate local governments for the tax revenue Washington unfairly denies them, Congress created – as only Congress could – the PILT program, which stands for Payment In Lieu of Taxes. Under PILT, Congress sends a few cents on the dollar out west every year to make up for lost property taxes. There is no guaranteed amount. Washington just sends what it feels like.

Imagine if a citizen operated this way with with the IRS.

Local governments across the western United States, and especially in counties like Garfield, Daggett, and Wayne, Utah, completely depend on Congress making good on this promise.

Given this situation, there are three possible courses of congressional action.

First, Congress could do the right thing and transfer the land to the states that want it.

Second, Congress could compromise and fully compensate western communities for the growth and opportunity current law denies them.

But in this bill, it’s neither. Congress chooses option three: lording its power over western communities to extort political concessions from them, like some two-bit protection racket.

“That’s a nice fire department you got there,” Congress says to western communities. “Nice school your kids have. Be a shame if anything should happen to it.”

These states and communities are looking for nothing more than certainty and equality under the law. Yet Congress treats these not as rights to be protected, but vulnerabilities to be exploited.

I have been on the phone with county commissioners for weeks, who feel they have no choice but to support a policy they know doesn’t work. This bill takes away their ability to plan and budget with certainty, and forces them to come back to Congress, hat in hand, every year. County Commissioners know this is no way to run a community. I share their frustration, and I applaud their commitment to their neighbors and communities.

I’m convinced that in the long run, the best way to protect these communities is to find a real, permanent solution that gives them the certainty and equality they deserve.

My vote against the Farm Bill will be a vote to rescue Utahns from second-class citizenship, and local communities in my state from permanent dependence on the whims of faraway politicians.

Mr./Madam President, for all the talk we hear in this chamber about inequality, we nonetheless seem oblivious to its causes. This bill – and thousands of other bills, laws, and regulations like it – are the root cause of our shortage of opportunity in America today.

The end result of this legislation will be to disenfranchise and extort the American people to benefit special interests, to enrich the well-connected at the expense of the disconnected.

And the true cost of that transaction – just another forced deposit and withdrawal from Washington’s dysfunctional favor bank – is a lot more than $956 billion.

The true cost of this kind of unequal, cronyist policymaking is the trust of the American people: in the legitimacy of our political institutions, in the fairness of our economy, and in the good faith of their countrymen.

Our constitutional republic, our free enterprise economy, and our voluntary civil society depend absolutely on the equality of all Americans under the law, the equality of all citizens’ opportunity to pursue happiness in their own communities, according to their own values, each on a level playing field with everyone else.

This legislation subverts that principle, and mocks any patriot who still holds it dear.

All Americans may be equal, but as George Orwell might put it, under the Farm Bill some Americans are more equal than others.

I will not be a part of it. And I encourage my colleagues to recognize that there is another way, a better way, a new approach that remembers what – and who – we’re supposed to really stand for.

What we are supposed to stand for is deliberation – open debate and transparent amendment, on this floor.

These programs should not be coupled to shield them from scrutiny and reform.

If we need Food Stamps to fight poverty and farm subsidies to maintain our food supply, let those programs stand on their own merits or not at all.

Furthermore, the land out west is not going anywhere. This should be an opportunity to bring our people together, not turn our regions against each other, and turn the right to local government into a political football.

It’s time to have a serious debate about a permanent solution to federally owned lands that can improve economic opportunity and mobility while reducing the deficit. And all the evidence in this Farm Bill to the contrary, I believe we are capable of finding that solution.