No Swamp Draining Here

At the end of last week, the Congress and the president gave us an “omnibus spending package,” not a true budget, because we don’t do those anymore. They’re apparently too hard to negotiate. The tab on this “package” was $1.3 trillion.

We are supposed to be happy that this happened because it avoided a government shutdown. But let’s be honest: the government never really shuts down even when a shutdown is declared.

Republicans promised, if given control of both the executive and legislative branches (which they now have), that they would restore fiscal sanity. Democrats have no concept of fiscal sanity, but Republicans ought to. Talk, though, is cheap. It’s easy during a campaign to make promises. Much too easy.

It’s not just the spending itself that’s so bad, but also the sad truth that organizations like Planned Parenthood are continuing to receive taxpayer funding, despite all the pledges that they would be cut out from government support.

I know as well as anyone that you rarely get everything you want in a bill and that compromise is the name of the game, but why does every compromise seem to be so one-sided?

Planned Parenthood, by the way, was one of the sponsors (along with a number of other garden variety progressive and anti-Christian organizations) of the weekend’s so-called March for Our Lives protest.

“Planned Parenthood” and “respect for the sanctity of life” should never co-exist in the same sentence. Concern for the children? Really? After being responsible for more than 300,000 abortions per year?

Back to the spending package.

Yes, the Republican leadership in Congress deserves no small amount of disdain on this issue. There were standout negative votes in the Senate—Ted Cruz (whom I supported for the Republican nomination for president), Mike Lee, and Rand Paul among them. But, as usual, they were in the minority.

I’ve heard a lot of criticism of Congress on this from the most ardent Trump supporters, but no bill becomes law without the presidential signature. First, Trump supported it; then he tweeted he might veto it; a few hours later he signed it, citing the increase in military spending as apparently the most important feature.

If you are disgusted over the passage of this bill, and if you want to be a credible critic, you must be willing to acknowledge that Trump was just as much a part of this particular area of the “Swamp” as anyone else. Some, however, will go to almost any lengths not to admit that.

I never bought into the Trump rhetoric about “Draining the Swamp” because I knew he has spent his entire life in his own personal swamps, both in business and in his personal life. I knew it was merely campaign talk, not intended to be transferred over to actual governing.

So his decision to go along with this doesn’t surprise me at all. I think it’s time, though, for those who were surprised and/or disappointed to wake up and face reality: the Swamp will never be drained with either Trump or the current Republican leaders setting the agenda.

Seeking Truth

Conservatives in general, and Christian conservatives in particular, are looking at a couple of events from yesterday and rejoicing. I’m pleased as well, but my pleasure at what transpired isn’t of the ecstatic variety.

Yes, the House finally passed something that would begin to peel back the onerous Obamacare, and yes, I do understand that sometimes you must do things in stages. From what I’ve read, the House bill does reduce funding to Planned Parenthood substantially. What puzzles me is how this works with the recent, atrocious budget bill that doesn’t touch that funding at all.

The mixed message is, well, mixed.

I would like to believe that stage one in the Obamacare repeal and replace will actually be followed by the promised steps two and three. Forgive me, though, if my faith is weak; when it comes to Republican promises, seeing is believing, unfortunately.

Then there was that executive order Trump signed that supposedly protected religious liberty. If you look at it with some degree of scrutiny, it appears to be more symbolic than real.

First, it directs the IRS to be more flexible. Are we really going to trust IRS Director John Koskinen, the protector-in-chief and prevaricator-in-chief from the Obama years, to follow this directive?

There is nothing substantive in this executive order; it is primarily show. It doesn’t do a thing to protect, say, a Christian florist or baker who seeks to stand by his/her conscience. But apparently it’s enough to make Christian conservatives rejoice publicly and declare Trump as our political savior.

I’m not trying to be exclusively negative here. The Gorsuch appointment to the Supreme Court is a relief. So far, he hasn’t “grown” and morphed into a swing vote, never knowing which direction he will go.

The House healthcare bill is a start toward the proper goal, but it still has to get through a divided Senate. Republicans walk a tightrope there, so nothing has solidified yet.

What about that wall?

Trump is one to make big promises. He loves the adoring crowds who roar with approval at everything he says, so he keeps saying more. Never mind that a lot of what he says is pure hype. Lately, he’s been saying some rather interesting things:

Those quotes certainly put him in the same league with those esteemed presidents, don’t they?

I know many of Trump’s loyalists don’t mind that he backtracks, or that he can be startlingly inconsistent, but it does bother me because principles matter. I’m still concerned that he refuses to release his taxes; all other presidents of late have done so. By refusing, he continues to fuel speculation on how he handles his own finances.

Lest you think that I’m being unbalanced in my criticisms of Trump, let me offer something to help balance it out:

For some reason, the media never cared about all the things Obama didn’t release.

My point today is to caution you not to become unbalanced yourself. Weigh each new law, executive order, and nomination in the scale of honesty and integrity. Don’t make a judgment too precipitously. Make sure you know what is real movement forward and what is not.

Seek out truth above all.

Principles, Courage, & the Budget

A budget vote is coming. I’ve done my best to read both sides of the debate on what the Republican Congress has come up with this time. Yesterday, VP Pence was on the Rush Limbaugh program proclaiming it’s a win for the president, primarily because it increases defense spending.

Well, I’m glad it does that, given the various global crises we face: ISIS, Iran, North Korea, just to name the most prominent.

But what about the rest of this $1 trillion bill?

It continues to fund Planned Parenthood, that vile organization that has created a modern holocaust.

It continues to send money to sanctuary cities that are thumbing their noses at any type of curtailment of illegal immigration. Why should they be rewarded?

Some extra money is in it for border security, yet there is no mention of anything even remotely connected to Trump’s promise of a wall (not that I think he ever really believed in that long of a wall in the first place).

We’re told we must support this budget to keep the government running until September, then the Republicans in Congress will finally get down to business on what they said they would do.

The main reason why they don’t seem prepared to fight for anything substantive at this point is fear that they will be blamed for a government shutdown. That’s always the fear, and fear appears to drive their decisionmaking.

As a historian, I do understand that you can’t always get everything you want in legislation. Yes, there are compromises to be made. But how about compromises that don’t sacrifice basic principles such as the inherent value of human life? Allowing the funding of Planned Parenthood is a participation in murder. When will Republicans draw a line that cannot be crossed?

The litany of excuses grows:

  • We only have one house of Congress; how can you expect us to get anything passed?
  • We have Congress, but not the presidency, so anything we send to the White House will only get vetoed
  • We have Congress and the presidency, but we don’t have a 60-vote majority in the Senate to get what we want

If they were ever to get that 60-vote majority in the Senate, I’m almost convinced the argument will be that they don’t want to be portrayed in the media as heartless, so they will have to bow to what the Democrats want in order to be liked.

Whatever happened to principles? Why has spinelessness become the Republican fallback position?

In that interview that Pence did with Limbaugh, the host’s frustration came to the forefront in these words:

Okay, but why then is the president now suggesting a budget shutdown in September or October? If it’s no good now, why is it good then?

You guys were sent there to drain the swamp. There’s a clear Trump agenda that just isn’t seeable. It’s not visible in this budget, and some people are getting concerned that there’s more concern for bipartisanship and crossing the aisle, working with Democrats, than there is in draining the swamp and actually peeling away all of the roughage that is preventing actually moving forward here on so many of these issues that affect people domestically.

I’ve been a critic of Limbaugh ever since he jumped on the Trump Train with apparently no reservations, but he’s voicing a very important concern here, and he’s right to do so.

I’m reminded of this quote from Whittaker Chambers in Witness:

Men have never been so educated, but wisdom, even as an idea, has conspicuously vanished from the world.

I would add that principles and courage have dissipated along with wisdom.

Redefining Prosperity

President Obama has come forward with his new budget—a $4 trillion-dollar whopper. Unreconstructed radical that he is, he has decided to double down on his approach. This budget is a natural outgrowth of the attitude he projected in the State of the Union Address—“in your face.” Does he really believe we can tax and spend our way into prosperity?

Dem Bookstore

Or, at his core, does he not even care about a traditional definition of prosperity? Perhaps for him, prosperity is determined by how many more people look to the government for their sustenance. His ideological worldview posits that government should be the guiding hand for all of life. Debt is no problem, he thinks, because it is a positive indicator that the government is doing its job:

Totally Sustainable

Republicans have already said this budget proposal is DOA. One can only hope they will flex their new muscles to counter what he is attempting:

Working Out

Whenever this administration wants to offer some comedic relief, it sends out VP Joe Biden to give a speech. He fulfilled his task again earlier this week, speaking to an audience of Democrats about just how hard the last six years have been, basically blaming all the bad news—whether economic or in foreign policy—on George Bush. Doesn’t he realize that an admission that the last six years have been so bad might reflect on the people in charge for the last six years?

Really Tough

No, it’s not all that hard to explain why we’re in the state we’re in. It’s pretty obvious.

The Shrinking Military

I don’t pretend to be a defense specialist who knows exactly how many troops, missiles, and weapons systems are necessary to protect the nation. Neither do I know precisely how much fat there is in the military budget. As someone who always seeks to reduce excessive government spending, I remain open to cutting back anywhere, even in the military, if money is being spent unwisely. Yet the new proposed defense budget offered by Defense Secretary Hagel this past week has raised no small amount of concern; therefore, I must be concerned as well.

We are so accustomed to legislating and spending without any regard to constitutional limitations that it may be good to remember that military spending is absolutely constitutional. We have so much money currently being thrown around unconstitutionally by the federal government that we ought to at least pause before slashing indiscriminately the forces that ultimately keep us safe in a hostile world.

Is that world any less hostile today?

Shrink the Military

Yet we are now contemplating massive budget cuts that many say would cripple us militarily should we have to be in more than one place at a time. The new numbers would reduce our active army from 520,000 to 420,000 eventually, a level unseen since the Cold War began at the end of WWII. Is this really wise? The Marine Corps could drop from 192,000 to 175,000. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says those numbers are too low for us to be an effective fighting force. Yet a president who has shown no real interest in balancing a budget is bent on hacking back on this part of it:

New Defense Budget

What else? The pay increase for our troops would be slowed from 40% since 2001 down to 1%, housing budgets will go down, and commissaries will have to raise prices. Is this because our troops are living in too much luxury? Everyone knows that’s not the case. Yet they will bear the brunt of this cutback. I’m sure that will be a great morale booster as we seek to attract more soldiers:

Want to Cut

Does the president think this can be done without anyone raising questions?

Won't Even Notice

America’s status in the world already is suffering. Our influence is waning under this administration. How is this going to help?

Shield Smaller

So, the one clearly constitutional duty of government—protecting its citizens—takes a back seat to everything else the federal government finds more compelling?

Suck in Gut

I hope you will excuse me for questioning our priorities.

Challenging the Status Quo

As I write my post this morning, the Senate is poised to pass a budget deal crafted by Republican Paul Ryan and Democrat Patty Murray. It is being hailed in some quarters as a sign of bipartisanship and progress, but is it really? I listened to Ryan explain why this is a good deal—no tax increases;  return of some sequester cuts to the military; deficit reduction down the road. I’ve listened to the critique of the deal—it includes more spending now and those reductions are far down the road, thereby increasing the deficit in the short run; no guarantee that a future Congress will keep this deal when the spending is set to go down; military veterans taking a hit on their pensions, even those who were wounded in action; no one else in the federal government affected in the same way as these veterans because their pensions remain untouched, so this once again penalizes those who lay their lives on the line for us.

When I first heard it explained, I hadn’t yet known about the downside of the bill. I wonder how many of those in the House of Representatives who voted in favor of it—the majority of Republicans included—really understood the ramifications. Were they hearing all the facts ahead of time?

New Budget Deal

Now, I know one overriding reason why many Republicans jumped on board with this, even some who have steadfastly resisted bills like this in the past—they are nearly petrified by the political fallout of another looming battle over the budget for which they will get blamed if we have another government “shutdown,” better described as a “slimdown.” One has to wonder why this deal would look so good to them if not for that fear. Surely, by now, they should realize they can’t trust the Democrats to uphold their side of the bargain:

Deficit Reduction

There are good people on that side of the debate who say that by putting this budget mess aside, we can concentrate on stopping Obamacare by offering an alternative. I hope so. Yet the Republican leadership doesn’t seem to be able to create unity around one solid proposal. It’s time for genuine leadership to emerge. This deal, in my view, does nothing to allay the major concerns going forward:

Budget Compromise

I, and many others out here in the hinterlands, are seeking bold leadership that will challenge the status quo. Yes, I understand political realities, but those realities will never change until courage comes front and center.

As a historian, I try to draw lessons from our past. I recall that Ronald Reagan was despised by the Republican party establishment back in the 1970s. They said he wasn’t realistic, he was too confrontational, too conservative to be elected. He went on to win two smashing victories, revived the economy, and forced the Soviet Union to the bargaining table, which eventually led to the downfall of the Evil Empire. The establishment was wrong then, and it is wrong now.

 

Passing Thoughts

There are just too many stories this morning, so I’ll offer some passing thoughts on a number of them. We have to begin with the Boston Marathon bombings.

  • Unlike many of the liberal news anchors [forgive the redundancy], we need to withhold our speculations on who is responsible for the attacks that killed at least three. There is no need to rush into accusations. Wait and see where the evidence leads.
  • Apparently, all the pressure on the media to cover the Kermit Gosnell trial is working. For the first time, reporters from the major networks and newspapers have decided to watch the proceedings. That, by itself, is only half the battle; the second half is ensuring what they report is not skewed.

  • In their heart of hearts, they’d rather be elsewhere, reporting on what they consider to be the breaking news stories of the day:

  • Speaking of the media, we now know that there is no such thing as an illegal immigrant:

  • On the healthcare front, it seems Obamacare’s true nature is being revealed—by its own supporters and those responsible for carrying it out:

  • Then there’s the budget President Obama has presented, increasing the debt annually forever and ever. Amen. It even calls for all four-year-olds to be enrolled in school. Hey, it’s never too early to make the government one’s real family. Even though his new budget is a monstrosity, he continues to make ludicrous statements about his bipartisanship:

  • Fortunately for us, his new budget is getting the same reception his previous ones received:

  • I began with the Boston Marathon; I’ll end with it: May those who lost family and/or friends in this terrorist act find their true solace in the love of God displayed through His Son. May those who were injured in the blasts turn to the only One who can provide healing, both physically and spiritually, and comfort. May those in the vicinity of the tragedy who escaped serious injury come to the recognition of their mortality and how they might have to face eternity at any time, and may they turn from their selfishness and turn toward the Cross and the Empty Tomb. May those who were there and already know the reality of repentance and forgiveness, be God’s arms and hands in the midst of this turmoil.