Governing in Divided Government

The pre-primary season is winding down and the primary season is upon us. The field of candidates will now start dwindling a little faster than it has over the past year. There have been numerous televised debates, town halls, campaign rallies, and new stories.

We have heard countless questions from moderators and from voters themselves. But in all this time, there has been one question that I have not heard asked that should be asked of every candidate that is running. How do they plan to govern with the other side?

independent2It essentially doesn’t matter which candidate wins the presidential election in November when it comes to this simple question. It all hinges on the Senate. Regardless if the winning candidate’s party is in control of the chamber, the opposition will still have enough to invoke the filibuster. And there is the possibility that the opposition could be in control of the chamber as well. Neither side will have a filibuster-proof majority.

Partisan divisiveness has gotten worse in the past several years. We have seen what happens when neither side want to work together and instead just point fingers. This goes for the halls of the Capitol and the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

We need candidates that are willing to step up and acknowledge that in divided government it becomes necessary to govern with the other side and govern by that mentality. It cannot be an all-or-nothing approach. And it is up to us, the voters, to ensure this and to hold our elected officials accountable to it.

Presidential candidates will spout off promises and tell their voters what they want to hear. But when the dust settles, and we have a winner, then it’s an entirely new situation. They must figure out what they have in common and work through their differences keeping open communication the entire time.

A recent RCP poll average gives Congress a 14-percent approval rating. As we vote, we should remember that as well. We have repeatedly said that we are tired of brinkmanship and going from one crisis to another with only immediate fixes and not long-term solutions. The time has now come to elect candidates that can and will work together regardless of the ideological divide.

So how do the various candidates plan to govern with the other side? I guess we should start asking and find out.

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The Fight for the Senate: Who Will Win Control?

The main talk of the 2014 election has been which political party will control the Senate after the votes have been counted.  Democrats have been on defense throughout most of the country as President Obama’s approval rating has been low. So with just a little more than a week to go, where do I think the numbers will fall?

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Colored: Safe Seats; Gray: Toss-Ups

In this election cycle, Democrats have 38 seats that are safe or not up for reelection while Republicans have 42. So that is where my numbers start.

Democrats are projected to win the elections in Illinois (Durbin), Michigan, Minnesota (Franken), New Jersey (Booker), New Mexico (Udall), Oregon (Merkley), and Virginia (Warner).  Republicans are safe in the elections in Mississippi (Cochrane), South Dakota, and West Virginia.  This brings the total to 45-45 with 10 states that will determine the balance of the Senate.

In their latest forecast as of the time of writing this column, Nate Silver and those at fivethirtyeight.com give the Republicans a 62.1% chance of retaking the Senate.  The race is on for either side to grab 6 of the 10 toss-up seats.  It is going to be close, and it might just hinge on one thing we would not have predicted even 6-months ago.

It seems likely that Republicans will win seats currently held by Democrats in Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, and Louisiana.  Though in Louisiana, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu will win on November 4, she will not cross the 50% threshold sending the top 2 into a run-off in December in which she will fall.  Republicans will also hold onto their seat in Kentucky.  This gives the GOP a total of 50 seats.

So what about the Democrats?  I believe they will hold onto their seats in New Hampshire and North Carolina.  I’ve watched over the polls of Colorado, and they have given me a headache just as they did during the 2012 election.  I will go out on a limb that Colorado will stay in the Democratic column but just barely.  There is still a state that was a surprise for this grouping.  Even a month ago, I had not included it here but my gut tells me to do so now.  Georgia.  Again, I believe this will be extremely close, but that the Democrat will come out on top.  Total for the Democrats… 49.

This leaves one seat remaining.  Republicans need it for control; Democrats need it for a tie with Vice-President Biden (Democrat) being the tie-breaker.  I hinted at this earlier, and it is Kansas.  As the election year started, Republicans saw Sen. Pat Roberts as a safe seat.  He had a tea-party challenge in the primary which he defeated.  He was being challenged by the Democrats and an Independent candidate Greg Orman.  Then the Democrat, basically seeing the writing on the wall, dropped out leaving only Orman to challenge Sen. Roberts.  The race has tightened up, but I’m predicting that Orman will pull off the upset and join Independents Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME) in the Senate.  So it will come down to where he caucuses: with the Republicans to give them majority, or with the Democrats to give them a tie (and thus majority off the tie-breaker).

My 2014 Prediction

My 2014 Prediction

This is how close it is going to be.  The Senate will be 50-50 or 51-49 Republican.  The Senate may need to learn how to compromise and function a little bit better with the chamber so evenly divided.  Despite all the polls and predictions, it will all still be determined by who shows up to vote.  So make sure to vote on November 4.

** This column is my sole opinion based off examining various polls.
** Special thanks to RealClearPolitics for allowing me to create my own map.

Do Independent Voters Really Matter?

It’s 2014 and that means that it’s a midterm election year.  So that means that the two main parties will head to their respective corners and leave out nearly a third of Americans.

Throughout the primary process… especially the early primaries… candidates tend to move more toward their base so that they can win.  This is helped by the fact that the two main parties don’t want independent voters to have a say in who their candidates are.  This is usually left up to the states to decide for themselves, though.  It’s not until after the primaries are over that a candidate tries to center their message and attract the independent voter because most elections can’t be won without them.

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There are basically two types of independent voters.  The first type is the moderate voter that switches back and forth between the two parties.  The other type are the independent voters that can vote Democrat or Republican, but they also are willing to vote for third party and independent candidates.  They are not held down to the two-party belief that our political system has tried to force upon the voters. The latter group is where I’m placing my focus.  More and more Americans are starting to realize that there are other options out there and are fighting to get them equally included.

As the two main political parties become more polarized and more bent on just serving those voters that vote for them.  Those that exist in the middle find themselves left out.  Third party candidates (and independent candidates) are often left off out debates and are sometimes sued by the major parties in an effort to keep them off the ballot.

The mentality is the same for both Democrats and Republicans.  A vote for a third party candidate or an independent candidate is a wasted vote.  It’s a vote that could have gone to them.  And all one needs to do is to express their intent to vote for such a candidate to hear how much they have that thought in our mentality.

The two main parties still control the election process and are actually working together to keep it that way.  They want to make sure that the voters don’t really have a choice and that the political pendulum only swings two ways.

FACT:  Nearly 40% of people do not vote. This is because they feel left out and ignored.

But as the parties move farther and farther apart, the moderate and independents in the middle are getting left out and the country is losing because there aren’t any real debates or solutions.  It’s just the same stuff over and over again.  If the independents were to rally around one third party or independent candidate, they could make a real play at winning an election.

When it comes to a presidential election, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) has imposed a 15% minimum in polls for a third party or independent candidate to be allowed into the debates.  This number was made higher after the 1992 presidential election in which Ross Perot had significant support and was included in the debates.  So now when complaints come in that other candidates aren’t included, the CPD just points to the rules.  What they aren’t telling the voters is that they don’t even include the other candidates in the polls.

Independent voters are constantly discussed when an election year comes around.  Even the media seems to talk about them nonstop.  The rest of the time, the parties and even the media could care less.  A question was posed this past Sunday on This Week with George Stephanopoulos about who should be the guest of honor at the State of the Union address.  Political contributor Matthew Dowd said it best, “First Lady should have empty chair in her box at SOTU to represent millions of americans forgotten in dc.”

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So do independent voters really matter?  Of course they do in the general election.  They are the most prized votes to get.  But there is a saying. “If I’m not good enough to vote for your candidates in the primary, then I guess they don’t need my vote in the general election.”

Independent voters should listen to that saying.  They have more voter power these days than they realize.  If they were to unite and exercise their vote, they could shake up the election process.  If independents are the deciding vote in elections then maybe it’s time they make a different decision.  We really do have more than two options.

A Tax By Another Name

It would appear that Congress has finally done its job and will pass a budget. The House passed the legislation last week before adjourning for the holidays while the Senate will do so this week.  While we might hail the bipartisan effort to avoid another government shutdown for the next two years, there are still many problems with this budget deal.  Though I could write an article on the hits and misses of this new budget deal, I’ve decided to focus on one particular part of it.

The budget deal eliminated $45-billion in sequester cuts (equally on military and non-discretionary spending) that were set to take place at the beginning of 2014, and also another $18-billion that were set to hit in 2015.  Sequester cuts were left in place beyond 2015.  To help make up the loss of this money, they needed to get additional income, and that comes in the form of an increase in airline fees.  Specifically, it targets the 9-11 security fee.

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Currently, the 9-11 security fee is $2.50 for a nonstop flight and $5 for a flight with stops.  There is also a cap at $5 so that a consumer cannot get charged more than that.  The new budget increases the fee to $5.60 regardless if it is nonstop or not and eliminates the cap.  It also takes the money generated out of its own account where it can only be spent in certain ways and places it in the general fund.  This allows Congress to spend the additional revenue wherever it sees fit.

And while you might think to yourself that $2.50 or even $5.60 might not seem like a lot, it’s because you haven’t taken into account the rest of the taxes and fees that are associated with that ticket.  A $700 plane ticket might have almost $200-worth of taxes and fees in the price.  When you start adding up all the “little” taxes and fees, you suddenly realize that you’ve been “nickled-and-dimed” out of a lot more.

So what exactly are all the taxes and fees that are included when you by a plane ticket? (per person)

  • Domestic Passenger Ticket Tax: 7.5% of the base ticket price.
  • Flight Segment Tax: $4 per connection (this increases $0.10 each year)
  • International Travel Tax: $17.20 which is a departure and arrival tax
  • Passenger Facility Charge: $4.50… airports have been wanting this increased
  • September 11 Fee: Currently $2.50 and will be raised to $5.60

Those are some of the bigger taxes and fees, but there are still lesser ones that add to that ticket price.

  • Frequent Flyer Tax: 7.5%
  • Cargo Waybill Tax: 6.25%
  • Commercial Jet Fuel Tax: $0.04
  • Aviation Security Infrastructure Fee: Varies
  • APHIS Passenger Fee: $5
  • APHIS Aircraft Fee: $70.75
  • Customs User Fee: $5.50
  • Immigration User Fee: $7.00

And just like with all of these other taxes and fees, the increase in the 9-11 security fee will be passed on to the consumers despite the billions in  profits of the major airlines and the already high costs of a plane ticket.  In an article on The Hill, Delta Airlines CEO Richard Anderson stated that he would be doing just that… passing along the increase to the consumer.  According to the Memphis Business Journal, Delta Airlines profits increased 18% in 2012 to $1-billion.

Airlines want more people to fly but yet they continue to raise prices for whatever reason they come up with… which does include when the government includes a tax on them.  As prices rises, more and more people are not able to afford the ticket prices and are therefore left out.  In 2007, a ticket to London could cost about $750.  That same ticket in 2013 cost about $1500, per person.  There will be cost of living increases during that time, but not to the point that it doubles prices.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) have repeatedly said that the new budget does not raise or include new taxes.  Though that may be true in terms of income taxes, they apparently aren’t counting the increase in the 9-11 security fee.  Just because something is a fee doesn’t mean that it’s not a tax.  A fee is a tax by another name.  So yes, this budget does increase taxes.  They should have just let the sequestration cuts stay in place and just allowed the different departments to structure the cuts how they wanted.  There is enough waste in the budget as it is to accommodate the minuscule amount of cuts that the sequester had in place.

SOURCE:
Taxes and Fees provided by MarketWatch and Airlines.org

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