The Case for Outrage
Another wet and cool month has passed. The lake seems to have crested and maybe summer will finally arrive someday soon. We are still breaking records for total rainfall and low temperatures. The only real blessing we received recently was that it did not rain on Memorial Day. Once again the people of the Panhandle demonstrated their appreciation for our local veterans with their generosity. Thanks to all who gave and to the volunteers who ‘shook their cans’ at locations around Sandpoint and Ponderay.
The other day I saw a faded bumper sticker on the back of older Toyota sedan. I believe it may have come from the ’08 election cycle. It read. “If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention!” I find that this phrase is just as applicable today—if not more so—than it was in 2008. On the state legislative front Idaho’s House and Senate have done more harm to working Idahoans by drastic cuts in social programs and education. These cuts will result in Idaho’s children being even less prepared for tomorrow’s jobs than they are for today’s jobs. There is something very wrong (when it comes to our kids) about being proud to shout, “We’re number fifty!” (based on US Census data on per student spending). On the other end of the spectrum veterans returning to Idaho after discharge do receive some pretty good breaks on post-secondary education. [This does presuppose that one is a high school graduate or is adequately prepared for college level work.] These state benefits are especially helpful for those who are disabled or have been awarded a Purple Heart. Visit the Idaho Division of Veterans Services on the web (http://tinyurl.com/3njzabd ) for a complete breakdown of those services offered or available.
On the national front I am extremely saddened to report that the 112th Congress has done essentially nothing to improve the lot of our nation’s veterans. The GOP majority in the House doesn’t appear to have much interest in taking any responsibility for the thousands of veterans they have created. I returned to my new favorite website, Open Congress (www.OpenCongress.org) for updates and found that none of the bills mentioned in earlier articles—H.R. 238, H.R. 333 or S.R. 344—have emerged from the committees they were assigned to! These three bills would have an immediate effect on improving the financial situation for disabled and/or retired veterans. S.R.344 deals with concurrent compensation, H.R. 238 deals with Medicare premiums and H.R. 333 deals with the phase-in of concurrent compensation and tax issues similar to S.R. 344. None of these bills have made any progress since February when they went to committee. In fact, of the almost 3,500 bills introduced in both chambers, I could find less than 100 that had been acted upon in any fashion. Far and away the vast majority of these bills will be stuck in committee and will never see the light of day. Many of those that have passed both houses are of what I have called the “Warm & Fuzzy” bills in earlier articles. These bills deal with nothing germane to today’s problems but recognize some action or event that took place years ago. I did notice that a significant number of the Joint Resolutions passed dealt with Constitutional amendments and these (due to the complexity of the process) have almost zero chance of becoming law.
At this point I’d like to present a brief civics lesson. This month’s lesson is about how our government is supposed to work. It is important to remember the Congress has the ‘Power of the Purse.’ Congress is the source of all revenue and expenditure bills. Congress, working with the President and his Cabinet, decide how much is spent and where the funds are to come from. The President can and does propose a budget where he says I want to do X Y & Z for each and every Department and Bureau but without Congressional approval the President can’t spend a dime. This reality—that the President cannot do whatever he pleases as far as spending or accessing additional revenue is concerned—leads us to the sorry state of affairs that we find ourselves in today.
Over the past year and a half the President has proposed numerous programs that would benefit veterans, veterans’ dependents and survivors, schoolchildren, small businesses, mortgage defaulters and the vast majority of America’s unemployed but—and this is a biggie—the House of Representatives has not and apparently will not pass a budget that would fund these programs. It took a ‘down-to-the-wire’ effort just to get unemployment benefits extended, and that only happened when certain concessions (the extension of all of the Bush tax cuts) were made to the House majority.
To the contrary the House has proposed a budget that slashes to the bone most programs that benefit working Americans. It appears to me that this House is purposefully and not very subtly doing everything it can to ensure that nothing positive gets done for the vast majority of the American people. I believe that this is being done simply for political gain and has no connection to doing what needs to be done for the majority of the American people.
So, returning to my original statement about paying attention it is easy to see that, to date, the 112th Congress can easily be looked upon as the least productive, most ineffectual, waste of taxpayer’s money in recorded history. Not only are they not doing anything to help veterans they are doing nothing to help the nation overall. This nation has monumental problems that need addressing and these ‘elected representatives’ are more concerned with making political points, retaining favor with their donor base or satisfying the desires of a radical fringe minority than solving the people’s problems. I like to think I am paying attention and I am outraged by the machinations, posturing and obfuscations of the people who ostensibly represent us. We, the people, need to pull these ideologues in from the far edges of our political spectrum and return to some kind of balanced center. How can this be done? By holding our elected representatives accountable and becoming truly informed. Back in the late ‘60s a popular phrase was “Question Authority.” I’d like to modify that to “Ask Questions” and then really, really listen to the answers you get.
In closing for this month I’d like to mention that a representative of the Idaho Division of Veterans Services will be at the VFW Hall in Sandpoint on July 14 from 8:30 am to 2 pm. Those needing services must schedule an appointment through the Lewiston Office of Veterans Services no later than July 7. Appointments can be made by calling 208-799-5084. Walk-ins will be accepted between scheduled appoints as time permits.
Until next month, let your elected representatives—state and federal—know that you are watching what they are doing, or not doing, in your name. An informed and educated electorate is essential to the continuance of democracy.