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••• (Update) LaForge issues statement on earmarks

November 17th, 2010 Comments off

An update with my column from this week’s Mississippi Business Journal print edition as well as some links from other stories about LaForge’s comments …

LaForge delivers thoughtful argument in earmark battle

Bill LaForge believes efforts to eliminate earmarks by the incoming U.S. House GOP majority is “short-sighted.”

It was just a couple of weeks ago I wrote a column about LaForge and his recently released book titled “Testifying Before Congress,” which is gaining accolades from across the country.

The Cleveland native is past national president of the Federal Bar Association and is a frequent speaker on the topics of government and Congressional relations, communicating with Congress, the Congressional hearings process and the Congressional appropriations process.

LaForge is a main figure on Capitol Hill, having served as chief counsel of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and culminated his government career as chief legislative counsel and chief of staff to Sen. Thad Cochran. Previously he served as Congressional liaison for the Peace Corps and as a legislative assistant to Mississippi Rep. David Bowen.

So, when he issued a statement last week critical of the anti-earmark wave, it should make all of us stand up and take notice.

His point was that eliminating earmarks will not change budget numbers, going so far as to say eliminating earmarks gives all of the budgeting power to the executive branch.

LaForge’s viewpoint is quite different from the one popular with the masses out there.

But LaForge isn’t one to stick his neck on the line for the hell of it.
He understands the process of Washington and the process of the national budget.

Republicans have abandoned the you-scratch-my-back, I’ll-scratch-yours earmark process, Democrats who still hold a majority in the Senate have to decide whether they’ll try to prop up a system that seems to be collapsing all around them.

With the GOP dead set against earmarks and President Barack Obama urging a crackdown, defenders of earmarks — mostly Democrats but with a few Republicans mixed in — are swimming against a powerful tide.

Earmarking allows lawmakers to steer federal spending to pet projects in their states and districts. Earmarks take many forms. They can be road projects, improvements to home district military bases, sewer projects, economic development projects and even those Predator drone aircraft that are used to kill terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

They can also include tax breaks for a handful of specific companies, like a tax cut proposed years ago for manufacturers of hunting arrows.

The reason Capitol Hill’s favor factory has churned out so many pork-barrel projects so successfully for so long is pretty simple: Everybody did it, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.

Not anymore.

Critics like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and incoming House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, have railed against earmarks for years, even as they proliferated when Republicans controlled Congress. Slowly, the tide has turned in their favor.

Boehner promises that next year’s spending bills won’t have earmarks. The opinion of House Democrats doesn’t matter much since they’ll be stripped of most of their power under a Boehner-led regime.

But it was last week’s surprise announcement by Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in support of a two-year moratorium on earmarks that fundamentally shifted the paradigm. Until then, McConnell had been a strong defender of the practice. Banning earmarks wouldn’t save money and would shift too much power to Obama, McConnell said in the days after the midterm Congressional elections.

Despite deep misgivings among many old-timers, Republican senators followed McConnell’s lead and endorsed a nonbinding moratorium on earmarks by a voice vote in a closed meeting.

LaForge says this direction is the wrong one.

“ … McConnell … went along with the party’s conservative wing,” he said. “This is all in reaction to the election and to voter interests in the government, especially the Congress, doing everything possible to reduce spending and get the financial house in order. Congressional Republican leaders feel it is necessary to restore trust in government by the American people.”

Earmarks are not ‘new’ money, LaForge went on to say.

“They only direct where the money will be spent. Essentially, they are directives from Congress on how taxpayers’ dollars should be spent, rather than allowing executive branch agencies to make all the decisions. The same amount of dollars will still be on the table and will be spent.”

A shareholder at Winstead Sechrest & Minick, P.C., specializing in government relations/public policy, LaForge makes a great argument, and a reasoned, thoughtful one.

If only we had more reasoned, thoughtful arguments in Washington, we would be better off.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

••• Other links with similar stories …

A lobbyist’s defense of earmarks: They make the government work

That Earmarks Ban? Mostly For Show

FACT CHECK: Ban on pet projects mostly symbolic

Our Opinion: Doling out our cash

Bennett: Earmark ban good politics, bad policy

Earmark reform won’t dent the deficit

••••••••

Here is the original post from last week …

Cleveland native Bill LaForge, a past national president of the Federal Bar Association, has issued a statement on the topic of earmarks that has become a national issue and rallying cry in the recent national elections.

LaForge calls the efforts to eliminate earmarks as “shortsighted”, giving all of the budgeting power to the executive branch.

LaForge is a frequent speaker on the topics of government and Congressional relations, communicating with Congress, the Congressional hearings process and the Congressional appropriations process.

“Earmarks are not “new” money,” LaForge said in his statement. “They only direct where the money will be spent.

“Essentially, they are directives from Congress on how taxpayers’ dollars should be spent, rather than allowing executive branch agencies to make all the decisions. The same amount of dollars will still be on the table and will be spent.”

A shareholder at Winstead Sechrest & Minick, P.C., specializing in government relations/public policy, LaForge has been a main figure on Capitol Hill as chief counsel of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and culminated his government career as chief legislative counsel and chief of staff to Sen. Thad Cochran. Previously he served as Congressional liaison for the Peace Corps and as a legislative assistant to Mississippi Rep. David Bowen.

Below is his statement, in full …

I decided to issue my own statement on earmark reform:

Yesterday the Senate Republican conference agreed on a two-year moratorium on earmarks. Republican Leader Mitch McConnell reluctantly changed his position of supporting earmarks, went along with the party’s conservative wing, and embraced the idea of a moratorium, thus ensuring the endorsement of the Republican caucus, and avoiding a bitter and devisive intra-party battle. This is all in reaction to the election and to voter interests in the government, especially the Congress, doing everything possible to reduce spending and get the financial house in order. Congressional Republican leaders feel it is necessary to restore trust in government by the American people.

However, in reality, it is a mere symbolic gesture…a political reaction and a “feel-good” outcome for politicians who believe that they must listen to the American people and do their will on this issue. It will have NO impact on the federal budget. Earmarks are not “new” money. They only direct where the money will be spent. Essentially, they are directives from Congress on how taxpayers’ dollars should be spent, rather than allowing executive branch agencies to make all the decisions. The same amount of dollars will still be on the table and will be spent. The sad difference now is that Congress is abdicating its constitutional responsibility and privilege regarding the power of the purse, and turning over all the decisions to the executive branch. To me, this is very short-sighted. But it is an issue rife with demagoguery and political messaging. Politicians are falling all over themselves trying to outdo their rivals on this issue, so you will note that an unlikely coalition involving the President and congressional Republicans is having a field day with this issue. For many, perception has become reality, and it appears that the moratorium is real, at least for now. The Senate action by Republicans comes on the heels of similar action by House Republicans earlier this year. It remains to be seen how congressional Democrats in both houses will respond and what they will do next. It is possible that all or some Democrats, and possibly even some Republicans, will continue to request earmarks. Politically I would envision Republicans making any Democratic earmarks a big issue during the next campaign. Hell hath no fury like a reformed earmarker! Only time will tell.

Media: We are easy targets

October 11th, 2010 Comments off

Somewhere along the line, it’s lost that I am a member of the media. Either that or the e-mail lists I wind up on are meant to send a message.

In actuality, I suspect, neither is the case. But I get a chuckle out of the stuff that gets sent around with particular venom and general mean spirit about the media.

We in the media, according to most of the e-mails, are anti-America, anti-military, anti-business, anti-family … basically, just “anti.”

One I got not so long ago referenced the death of a Medal of Honor winner, who lived in Boise, Idaho.
The e-mail goes into great detail about his experience in Ia Drang Valley during the Vietnam War.
Ed Freeman, against orders, flew his helicopter into a firefight to save pinned-down infantrymen. Actually, he went back and forth 13 times for men that would have perished otherwise.
Then, the kicker … “I bet you didn’t hear about this hero’s passing in the media.”

But the e-mailer was sure we had all seen lots of reports of celebrity antics and brushes with the law.
The final line read, “Shame on the American Media!”

Lazy and presumptive

Well, this kind of stuff drives me crazy. So, I immediately began to look up Mr. Freeman with this new, fancy technological tool, called “Google.”

After exhaustive research of the woeful American media archives, and with my (media-hat-wearing) head hung low, I responded to the e-mail:

Just a quick search shows that the media did a fine job in covering this story, below are three stories that I found. I am sure there are more, including local television and radio, which I did not look for.
Even a Mississippi post office may be named after this war hero, I read in a newspaper account.
I believe people are too quick to jump on the media. If folks will take about three seconds to look for it, generally you will find that the media has done its job.

And yes, this is a great story about a great American that served his country well, and I am glad the media did a good job in reporting it. Best, Ross.

I included several links to the stories. Three seconds. That’s all it took.

I know the media is an easy target and sometimes rightfully so as Howard Kurtz pointed out in his book “Media Circus: The Trouble with America’s Newspapers.”

Kurtz, the long-time Washington Post media critic, who last week jumped to the web’s “Daily Beast,” points out a bias toward bad news, and an emphasis on scandal.

But, by and large, the media — the middle-of-the-road media — does it right most of the time.
While we might not like everything we read or see, the media serves a great purpose in our society, which we would miss dearly were it not available in an objective form. I only hope we at the MBJ can live up to the other great journalism being practiced in every form of the profession.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.