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John Kline's Record

Disclaimer: The author of this site maintained the campaign weblog of John Kline's opponent in the 2006 election, which made Congressman Kline a bit testy.

As with all blogs, review the facts carefully and draw your own conclusions.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Kline Record: Kline's Summer Vacation, 2003

So, after giving a brief speech arguing for the repeal of the estate tax in June, 2003, freshman congressman Kline decided to kick back and take it easy for a while. His only floor speech in the month of July was a 173-word speech praising the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Amendment.

The House of Representatives did not convene in August.

Kline's only floor activity in September was to formally request that his name be removed from the list of co-sponsors for H.R. 1078, a bill "To establish academies for teachers and students of American history and civics and a national alliance of teachers of American history and civics, and for other purposes." There's no record of his reasons for wanting his name removed from the bill.

Finally, on October 28th, Kline traded in his bathing suit, sunglasses and flip-flops for a three-piece suit, and took to the floor to give another of his speeches rich in rhetoric and short on substance:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to join my colleagues in commending the valor and commitment of the brave men and women who served in Operation Restore Hope in Somalia, and I thank the gentleman from North Carolina (Mr. Hayes) for authoring this important bill.

Mr. Speaker, this resolution is a great honor to these men and women, and we have an opportunity to offer a more meaningful tribute. The best way to honor the troops of Operation Restore Hope is to support the legacy of freedom they fought to preserve.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have served alongside some of the finest troops in the world when I was a commander of Marine Aviation Forces in Operation Restore Hope. The commitment of these men and women to our Nation and to the people of Somalia was exemplary.

Unfortunately, as we learned shortly after the battle of Mogadishu, civilian leadership of Operation Restore Hope did not share the commitment of our troops when the situation became difficult. Today, a decade later, the men and women of the United States Armed Forces again face a difficult challenge, this time in Operation Iraqi Freedom. As in Somalia, American forces have entered Iraq with the best of intentions, and this time, this time we must stay the course.

We commend the troops of Operation Restore Hope for their service as we pray for the safety of those who carry forth the proud tradition of committed service in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Yes, it's appropriate to acknowledge and honor the commitment and sacrifice of our troops who fought in Somalia, and it's especially appropriate for Kline to comment on it, since he was one of the commanders there. But didn't he have anything to say about major issues facing the country during the summer of 2003? If nothing else, there was a war going on, and it was starting to become clear that things weren't going our way. Didn't Kline have anything to say about that? He's a fiscal conservative; didn't he have anything to say about the ballooning budget deficit? Or education? Or affordable housing? Or abortion, or stem cell research, or something?

Apparently not. Kline's next floor speech of any substance didn't happen until November.

John Kline Adamantly Supports Repeal of the Estate Tax

As we continue to meander through John Kline's entries in the Congressional Record for his first year in Congress, we find that on June 17, 2003, freshman congressman Kline continued his well-established pattern of introducing fluffy pieces of non-binding legislation when he introduced a bill recognizing the University of Minnesota at Duluth's Women's Ice Hockey team for their National Championship victory over Harvard. It was their third consecutive national title; quite an accomplishment.

The next day, however, the House was debating more far-reaching legislation, the question of whether to repeal the federal estate tax permanently. In the prolonged debate in which opponents and proponents of repeal argued studies, facts and statistics, John Kline had this to say (and this was all Kline had to say on the topic):

Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me this time, and I rise today in strong support of H.R. 8, a measure that frees men and women from being penalized for their hard work and their success. The Death Repeal Permanency Act of 2003 would eliminate the death tax, eliminate it, and that is the key, once and for all.

Mr. Speaker, Congress has already voted to get rid of the tax. We should never ever let it come back. The estate tax discourages the very values we prize most highly in our Nation. It is a tax on hard work and savings, on sacrifice, and on success.

In Minnesota, the family farm is an important part of our commerce, an important part of our industry. It is part of the fabric of Minnesota. The family farm epitomizes the values that we hold most dear. We should never ever let this tax creep back in and put those farms in jeopardy.

We cannot allow this unjust penalty to harm any of our family farmers, whether they are a small farm, like my wife's family farm, or a big farm. The estate tax is immoral. The death of an individual's father, mother, father-in-law or mother-in-law should not be a taxable event. Not now, not ever.

Let us support H.R. 8 and not the Pomeroy substitute.

Now this probably isn't going to come as much of a shock to you, dear reader, but I think John Kline is 100% wrong on this issue, and I'll explain why.

First, let's examine the points Kline makes:
  • The estate tax is a tax on "hard work, sacrifice and success": This is just silly. The estate tax taxes an individual's net worth after they've died. Some of this net worth was accumulated via investments or gifts, not hard work. And for that portion of an estate which was earned through "hard work, sacrifice and success", the estate tax is a less onerous tax than the standard income tax (because it only applies to estates valued in excess of $1.5 million) or the payroll tax (which applies to the first $90,000 of income for everyone). While it's true that Kline and other Republicans have pushed even harder to reduce income taxes than they have to eliminate the estate tax (although even then, none are demanding a full repeal of income taxes --- yet), they are strangely mum about payroll tax rates.

    If we're really concerned with reducing or eliminating taxes on "hard work, sacrifice and success", let's whittle down the payroll tax first --- which affects everyone who works, including those least able to afford it --- and discuss the estate tax later, a tax which applies to fewer than 2% of people who die.

  • "Congress has already voted to get rid of the tax": An interesting bit of hyperbole, but wrong. In 2001, Congress voted to gradually decrease the tax rates for the estate tax and raise the dollar amount of an estate immune from the tax, eventually phasing out the tax altogether in 2010. After that, though, the estate tax is reinstated at 2003 levels. So Kline could just as easily (and more accurately) have stated that "Congress has already voted to leave the estate tax exactly where it is" (remember, Kline made this speech in 2003). But I guess that wouldn't have the same rhetorical impact.

  • "We should never ever let this tax creep back in and put those farms in jeopardy": Here Kline is engaging in a well-worn scare tactic of estate tax opponents, suggesting that the heirs to farms subject to the estate tax would have no choice but to sell out to --- well, someone --- in order to cover their tax liability. But this is only a scare tactic, and far from reality.

    The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a study this past July which looked at the effect of the estate tax on farmers and small business owners for the 1999 and 2000 tax years (the most recent years for which comprehensive data were available). The CBO concluded that roughly 4,500 farms per year were subject to the estate tax for those two years. Of those, fewer than 8 per cent owed a tax bill greater than the amount of their liquid assets.

    Does 8 per cent still sound like a lot? Maybe, but consider this: Estates for which a farm or small business comprise 35% or more of the total estate value are eligible to spread their estate tax payment out over 14 years, paying nothing but interest for the first five years. So it is extremely unlikely that any family had to "sell the farm" in order to pay an estate tax bill. In fact, the American Farm Bureau Federation, a group which opposes the estate tax as strongly as John Kline does, has admitted that they cannot identify a single farm family forced to sell the farm due to the estate tax.

    And remember, the CBO report covers 1999 and 2000, when only $675,000 of an estate's value was exempt from the tax. The current threshold of $1.5 million (scheduled to rise to $3.5 million in 2009, before the tax is temporarily eliminated in 2010) should ensure that no farms will be put in jeopardy due to the estate tax any time soon.

At the end of his floor speech, Kline did make a fleeting reference to something called "the Pomeroy substitute" (H.Amdt. 171), which he opposed and ultimately voted against. The Pomeroy substitute would have effectively wiped out all previous legislation pertaining to the estate tax and replaced it with a permanent estate tax starting in 2004 with an exclusion amount of $3 million for individuals and $6 million for couples. Needless to say, it would have protected those Minnesota farmers for a good long while. This exclusion level would leave fewer than 1% of the population subject to the tax --- roughly 100 farms and 100 small businesses per year nationwide. Kline and the rest of the House Republicans defeated the Pomeroy substitute, and instead passed H.R. 8, because they will settle for nothing less than full estate tax repeal.

And this is where John Kline and I really part company.

There are a lot of arguments in favor of the estate tax. Some argue that the estate tax encourages charitable giving, since a lot of folks would rather give their money to the United Way than the IRS. Many rightly point out that repeal of the estate tax would be expensive, with some estimating it will drain nearly $1 trillion from the federal treasury in just the first decade after its repeal ($745 billion in lost revenue and $225 billion to service the higher federal debt). The Citizens for Tax Justice make the interesting argument that elimination of the estate tax would actually discourage entrepreneurship and innovation, because children of the obscenely wealthy would simply drift through life waiting for their big inheritance payout ("if giving a single mother $10,000 a year in welfare stifles her incentive to work, just think how much worse it must be for someone who gets a windfall of 100 or 1,000 times that much").

And of course, most if not all of the theoretical ills of the estate tax are made up or ill-supported. When I Googled "estate tax", only one site out of the first hundred put forth a sustained argument for repealing the tax. That was The Heritage Institute, and all of their arguments hinge an the assertion that the estate tax discourages investment, which they make no effort to document and which is at best subject to debate. Like Kline, they also argue against the estate tax on moral grounds. "The death tax appears to many people as a clear contradiction to a central promise of American life: that if you work hard, save, and live prudently, you will be assured the enjoyment of your economically virtuous life." But the estate tax has no effect whatsoever on one's ability to enjoy one's "economically virtuous life", since the tax doesn't kick in until after you're dead.

For me, the real reason to keep the estate tax --- albeit perhaps in some amended form, like the Pomeroy substitute --- is basic fairness. Eliminating this tax will add roughly $100 billion per year to the federal debt, already at record levels, and the supposed fiscal conservatives championing estate tax repeal aren't saying a word about how they plan to make up the difference.

Here are some of the likely ways to make up the difference:
  • Don't make up the difference. Continue to let the debt grow, and increase the federal government's dependence on Japan and China.
  • Cut federal spending by $100 billion a year.
  • Make up the revenue by raising taxes elsewhere, like income taxes or capital gains taxes.

I don't like any of these options. Whatever strength the U.S. economy might have is endangered by our massive I.O.U.s to foreign nations, and it's reckless and frankly hypocritical for the Republican party, which claims to be serious about American strength and security, to put us further into hock. Similarly, I don't want further cuts in federal spending, especially if those cuts are going to affect the most vulnerable members of our society.

And since a responsible Congress would acknowledge that taxation is required to generate revenue, I certainly prefer those taxes to come out of the estates of the wealthiest 0.2% of the population, rather than coming out of the incomes of the remaining 99.8%. Yes, in a perfect world, the obscenely rich would be able to leave 100% of their wealth to their heirs, but a perfect world also wouldn't have income or payroll or sales taxes. Since I'm not an anarchist (and I doubt Kline and the rest of the Republicans are either), the estate tax seems like a reasonable way to keep the government running with the minimum amount of pain for everyone.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Open Letter: Congress Cannot Ignore the President's Lawbreaking

George Bush has now acknowledged repeatedly authorizing NSA surveillance of U.S. citizens on American soil for more than three years. Although Bush's supporters are trying to cloud the issue, this is a clear violation of the 1978 FISA statute, as Attorney General Gonzales admits:

. . . the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provides -- requires a court order before engaging in this kind of surveillance that I've just discussed and the President announced on Saturday, unless there is somehow -- there is -- unless otherwise authorized by statute or by Congress. That's what the law requires. Our position is, is that the authorization to use force, which was passed by the Congress in the days following September 11th, constitutes that other authorization, that other statute by Congress, to engage in this kind of signals intelligence.

That Bush's actions violate FISA is not in dispute. Gonzales and Bush claim that their authority for this surveillance derives from the post-9/11 resolution authorizing the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons" who "planned, authorized, committed or aided" the attacks. That claim is very much in dispute.

Former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle insists that the White House requested wording in that resolution to authorize activities within the United States, and that wording was explicitly rejected. Moreover, Gonzales acknowledges it would be "difficult, if not impossible" to persuade Congress to explicitly authorize this activity:

We have had discussions with Congress in the past -- certain members of Congress -- as to whether or not FISA could be amended to allow us to adequately deal with this kind of threat, and we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible.

Any objective individual will conclude that Bush has repeatedly broken the law, and has stated plainly that he intends to continue.

My question to you, Congressman Kline, is: Do you believe it is appropriate for the President of the United States to willfully and repeatedly violate the law, making his own determination about appropriate concern for U.S. citizens rights and probable cause? If so, then what is the purpose of Congress and the Judiciary?

If your answer is no, then how should Congress respond to Bush's lawbreaking? I find it intolerable that Congress should sit idly by while the President breaks the law. Either the law must change, or the President must change. Congress must investigate George Bush's actions. If Congress makes the determination that his actions were proper, then the law must be changed to explicitly grant the executive the power to conduct surveillance of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. Otherwise, George Bush must be impeached. To ignore Bush's lawbreaking and carry on business as usual dangerously weakens Congress as a co-equal branch of government.

Congressman Kline, you are one of 435 individuals who must decide how Congress will act. I hope you do not choose the course of weakness and complacency.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Kline Record: More of Kline's Floor Speeches

After presenting his first piece of legislation on March 25, 2003, freshman congressman Kline took a little breather. His only floor speech in the month of April, 2003, was one in which he had 20 minutes to more or less guide debate on his HEROES bill, a bill which, as we have already noted, is a nice but fairly lightweight piece of legislation. Kline and Rep. Ryan of Ohio spent the better part of an hour on April 1, 2003 (no foolin'!) leading the 'debate' before the bill ultimately passed by a vote of 421-1.

As a bonus, John Kline also led the ceremonial pledge of allegiance on April 1. Apparently Kline had absolutely nothing else he wanted to say on the floor for the rest of April.

On May 8th, Kline offered an amendment to a bill (H.R. 1261 of the 108th Congress) to modify the 1998 Workforce Reinvestment Act. Kline's amendment was passed by voice vote, and gave state Governors the authority to determine proportional funding for one-stop centers among community partners. If you want a clue what this means, much less understand whether Kline's amendment was a good idea, look here. From what I can understand, Kline's amendment sounds like a reasonable idea which perhaps needed a few more specifics. Not that it matters; H.R. 1261 never came to a final vote.

The next day, Kline paid tribute to "Minnesota educator Verna Ziegenhagen", another banal speech, but one which contained the following interesting tidbit:

Following her 53-year teaching career, Verna transplanted to her rural Le Center property a 100-plus-year-old country schoolhouse, which she filled with the mementoes of her teaching career. What began as a personal journey to preserve the memories is now a museum of tribute to her former students and, by extension, a shrine to her own dedication and sacrifice.

Verna's dedication to teaching continues in spite of her retirement. For the past 16 years, this two-time Teacher of the Year has maintained and operated the museum, constantly changing the theme to reflect the seasons and capture the imagination of visitors. This is a wonderful teacher. We thank her.
Moving a 100-year-old schoolhouse to your property and turning it into a museum! Cool!

On May 19, Kline joined fellow Minnesota congressman Mark Kennedy in paying tribute to John Weaver. The next day, he spoke out in favor of a nonbinding resolution recognizing the University of Minnesota hockey team for winning its second national title in as many years. Finally, on May 22, Kline's HEROES act was attached as an amendment, en bloc with a great many other amendments, to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2004 (H.R. 1588 of the 108th Congress), and Kline trotted out his pro-America pep talk for the third time. The en bloc amendments were approved by voice vote and the bill eventually became law around Thanksgiving.

And that does it for the month of May. And I'm thinking to myself, this guy's been a Congressman for five months already, and he's introduced one piece of softball legislation and made a handful of speeches befitting the grand marshall of a July Fourth parade. When is he going to introduce, sponsor, or speak out in support of legislation which will make a real difference?

The answer: in June. More in the next post.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Kline's HEROES Act: Long on Rhetoric, Short on Substance

On March 25, 2003 (coincidentally the day my daughter was born), John Kline introduced his first legislation to the House of Representatives: H.R. 1412 of the 108th Congress, better known as the HEROES act:

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce a resolution expressing the support and commitment of the U.S. House of Representatives for the troops who are serving to protect and defend the United States. More specifically, the resolution encourages actions to extend and protect the postsecondary student financial aid monies of these soldiers during this uncertain time.

This resolution is simple in its purpose. Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress passed the HEROES Act of 2001, which allowed the Secretary of Education to work with affected borrowers, lenders and institutions of higher education to grant flexibility surrounding student financial aid matters. This resolution urges the Secretary of Education to maintain his commitment to our men and women in uniform by providing assistance and flexibility as they transfer in and out of postsecondary education during this uncertain time.

The resolution also urges all postsecondary institutions to provide a full refund of tuition, fees and other charges to students who are members of the Armed Forces or are serving on active duty, including the Reserves and National Guard. Many times, America's military are also students. They are called away from their class work and studies to serve our nation's national defense. These heroes deserve the flexibility and accommodations that institutions of higher education can provide as they are leaving for active duty and returning to the classroom.

Lastly, this resolution urges lending institutions that hold or service Federal student loans for borrowers who have been called to serve the nation's defense to provide all available benefits and flexibility to these servicemen and women. When these servicemen and women return to the United States, we don't want to put them in a worse position financially because of the time they were overseas serving our nation.

I hope my colleagues join me in expressing the Congress's commitment to our military and to our students and families.
This is a nice gesture for supporting the troops, but it's really not much more than a gesture. If you read Kline's description closely, you'll notice that this bill doesn't mandate anything. It empowers the Secretary of Education to cut through some red tape on the behalf of veterans, but it doesn't oblige the Secretary to do so. Apart from that, it simply urges colleges, universities and institutions to assist veterans financially.

That's nice, but not terribly significant. Which probably explains why it took nearly five months for this relatively minor bill to become law. Massachusetts Democrat Marty Meehan, on the other hand, introduced his version of the HEROES Act (H.R. 2411 of the 109th Congress --- Help Extend Respect Owed to Every Soldier) this May. Here's the Library of Congress summary of that legislation:

Matthew Voisbert Help Extend Respect Owed to Every Soldier (HEROES) Act - Requires: (1) the Secretary of Defense to establish minimum uniform standards for postdeployment medical examinations; (2) that such examinations include screening for mental health and substance abuse disorders; and (3) follow-up services in appropriate cases.

Directs the Secretary of Defense to foster the early identification and treatment of mental health and substance abuse disorders experienced by members of the Armed Forces, with special emphasis on members who have served in a theater of combat operations within the preceding 12 months.

Directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to employ at least one psychiatrist and a complementary medical team at each Department of Veterans Affairs (Department) medical center to conduct a specialized program for the diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, and to employ additional mental health services specialists at such center. Authorizes such Secretary to contract for mental health and substance abuse treatment services in non-Department facilities when such services are not available in Department facilities.

Requires the Secretary of Defense to transmit to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs: (1) within seven days the medical records of all military personnel being discharged, released from active duty, or retired; and (2) a roster of all personnel who have served in the theater of operations during Operations Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom.

Directs the Secretary of Defense to assist eligible persons in obtaining employment in stable and permanent positions. Requires individualized transitional services to be provided to separating military personnel. Includes additional elements within a program under which the Secretary of Labor provides services and information to separating military personnel and their spouses.

Requires the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security to: (1) ensure that transition programs are provided at each military installation, National Guard armory and military family support center, and inpatient medical care facility; (2) ensure that military and veterans' service organizations and representatives are permitted to participate in such transition programs; and (3) facilitate the access of such State organizations and representatives to provide preseparation counseling and services to separating members.

Directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to facilitate the access of such organizations and representatives to provide member information on the care and services available.

Requires the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs to facilitate the sharing between their respective departments of information concerning member duties and assignments, exposures to toxic or hazardous substances, and illnesses or injuries incurred or aggravated in the course of such duties and assignments. Rescinds a Department Memorandum entitled "Status of VHA Enrollment and Associated Issues."

Directs the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to provide mortgage assistance to members who are seriously injured during military service.

Repeals the $1,200 reduction in basic pay currently required for participation in the Montgomery GI Bill educational assistance program.
Notice the stronger verbs in this legislation: "directs" and "requires" instead of "urges". Also note the final provision, which expands eligibility for participation in the G.I. Bill. That one piece of Meehan's legislation probably does more to support GIs pursuit of higher education than anything in Kline's HEROES bill.

But Republicans famously despise government regulation, which explains why Kline's bill doesn't mandate anything. Unfortunately, it also likely explains why Meehan's HEROES act died in committee.

(Kline's bill had a sunset provision of September 30, 2005. This past May, around the time Meehan was introducing his bill, Kline introduced a one-line bill (H.R. 2132 of the 109th Congress) extending his HEROES act through September 30, 2007).

The Kline Record: Kline's Floor Speeches

Since I have some spare time on my hands, and since John Kline doesn't appear to be doing much that's newsworthy these days, I thought I would browse through the Congressional Record to find out what issues Mr. Kline thought important enough to bring to his colleagues' attention on the floor of the House during the roughly three years he's been in Congress. It's impossible to link to the Congressional Record; bits of it get served up for a short amount of time so one can read them, then they disappear again. So I thought I would use the free hosting space Blogger is giving me to establish a permanent record of John Kline's floor speeches.

At least, until I get bored browsing the Congressional Record.

On February 11, 2003, freshman congressman John Kline gave his very first speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, 208 words honoring Ronald Reagan's birthday!

Mr. Speaker, twenty-two years ago, as a young major of Marines, I had the high honor of serving President Reagan as his military aide. On inauguration day in 1981, this great man started immediately to improve the morale and pride of the armed forces. He had real admiration and respect for Americans in uniform, and real concerns about the status of our military forces in that troubling decade following the war in Vietnam. It seems impossible now, but in those years we were not permitted to wear the military uniform, unless by exception, in our nation's capital--a sad indicator of the state to which pride and confidence had fallen.

During his first inaugural parade, President Reagan told each of the service chiefs that it was time for a change. He told them he wanted to see more uniforms on the street. He knew that this change of direction and attitude was important not only to those wearing the uniforms, but to all Americans. The time of shame and remorse was over. We owe a great debt to this great man for many, many reasons. But, perhaps the first reason is his remarkable transformation of our armed forces.

Thank you, Mr. President and Happy Birthday!
This speech was followed the very next day by a 182-word speech honoring Texas Congressman Sam Johnson, which was too banal to republish even here. Same goes for the 218-word speech he gave in support of our troops the day after we invaded Iraq.

But five days later, freshman congressman Kline got his legs under him and introduced his first legislation, which will be the subject of the next post.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Credit Where It's Due: Kline Comes Out in Favor of the McCain Anti-Torture Amendment (sort of)

It's been nearly two years since the Abu Ghraib abuses became public. It's been more than two months since John McCain first attached his anti-torture amendment to a defense appropriations bill and received the approval of 90% of the U.S. Senate.

It's been two months since I publicly urged John Kline to champion McCain's amendment through the House to insure it becomes law. I have yet to receive any response personally, but to his credit, John Kline is now taking the right side on the issue. He just isn't voicing his support too loudly.

From the December 13 edition of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press:

U.S. Rep. John Kline, a Republican from Minnesota's 2nd District, on Monday changed a previous position and endorsed Sen. John McCain's demand that the United States outlaw the use of torture in the interrogation of prisoners.

Kline, a retired Marine Corps colonel from Lakeville who previously had questioned the need for the McCain provision, urged House and Senate negotiators to accept McCain's anti-torture amendment to a defense appropriations bill.

The Bush administration has been trying to keep McCain's amendment out of the bill and to allow CIA agents to use interrogation techniques that military troops may not use.

"The United States has long outlawed the use of torture against any person, regardless of their legal status or geographical location," Kline said in a statement. "Despite such legal precedent, I feel it is important for Congress to reemphasize our anti-torture polices by clarifying strict guidelines for the interrogation and detention of enemy combatants.''

In an interview, Kline said: "I just think we're quibbling around the edges. It's imperative that we be very clear that we don't tolerate torture or degrading conditions."
While I applaud congressman Kline for his change of heart and/or mind, I'm a bit perplexed about the fact that the Pioneer Press cites "an interview", but didn't publish anything more of the interview than a few paragraphs in its Minnesota briefing section.

A Google search reveals no further information about an interview Kline gave on Monday. Kline has nothing posted about it at his congressional website, which apparently hasn't been updated in a month, or his campaign website, which seems not to have been updated since early 2004. A check of the past two weeks of the Congressional Record shows Kline hasn't spoken out in favor of the McCain amendment --- in fact, hasn't mentioned torture at all. So even though Kline is now on the right side of this issue, he seems none too interested in making sure his constituents know about it.

For that reason, I'm a bit skeptical about this conversion, and will keep a close eye on Kline's future actions, especially his floor votes, to see whether his actions match up with his words. But for now, I congratulate him on seemingly deciding that America should still be a civilized nation which does not stoop to engage in barbarism, even when fighting barbarians.

Update: About the time I was writing this post, Kline was matching actions to his words, voting for a nonbinding resolution to instruct the conference committee to include the anti-torture amendment in the final defense bill.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Open Letter: Our Fallen Soldiers Are Heroes, Not Freight

One thing all Americans can agree on, regardless of their position on the war, is that those who have volunteered to serve their country in combat and who pay the ultimate price for their service, are heroes. We cannot do enough to pay tribute to their service.

I was therefore outraged to learn that these fallen heroes are being shipped home to their loved ones in the cargo holds of commercial airliners, apparently in cardboard boxes. America can do better.

I know you believe very strongly that America must show its support for our troops. I know that you likely have no higher priority than supporting our troops and their mission in Iraq. You demonstrated your commitment to our troops' morale when you reacted to Rep. John Murtha's call for an immediate pullout by calling Murtha's comments "unconscionable" and insisting that "he should know better". If measured criticism of the war effort by a decorated Vietnam veteran merits such a scolding, then surely the decision by some penny-pinching Pentagon bureaucrat to pack our war dead in with bulk mail and checked luggage merits condemnation.

The U.S. government has spent more than $79 billion on no-bid contracts for Halliburton and other friends of the administration in Iraq. We've given out billions more in no-bid contracts to rebuild after the disaster of hurricane Katrina. And just four days ago, you and 224 other House Republicans voted for an additional $56 billion in tax cuts, mostly for the richest families in the country.

I can't speak for them, but it's hard to believe they would grudge the few additional dollars required to show our fallen heroes the honor and respect they deserve. I hope you will wield your considerable influence to ensure that America shows proper honor, respect and appreciation of their sacrifice. I can think of no better way to support our troops.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

It's Official: John Kline Supports Republican "Culture of Corruption"

Today, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi introduced a resolution condemning the "culture of corruption" surrounding the 2003 Medicare bill which provides seniors with the much-touted prescription drug benefit Republicans are so proud of. The text of the legislation (HR 591) is currently unavailable from the congressional website, but I found it at U.S. Newswire. I snipped out a few dull paragraphs:

Whereas the recurring practice of improperly holding votes open for the sole purpose of overturning the will of the majority, including bullying and threatening Members to vote against their conscience, has occurred eight times since 2003, and three times in the 109th Congress alone;

Whereas on November 22, 2003, the Republican Leadership held open the vote on H.R. 1, the Prescription Drug Conference Report, for nearly three hours, the longest period of time in the history of electronic voting in the U.S. House of Representatives;

Whereas the normal period of time for a recorded vote is 15 minutes, and the Speaker of the House has reiterated that policy on Opening Day of each Congress by saying, "The Chair announced, and then strictly enforced, a policy of closing electronic votes as soon as possible after the guaranteed period of 15 minutes";

Whereas the sole purpose of holding the Prescription Drug vote open was to undermine the will of the House, and reverse the position that a majority of the House of Representatives had taken during the entire vote;

Whereas it was widely reported in the press that former Representative Nick Smith (R-MI) was bribed on the House floor, and the incident was described in Robert Novak's column in the Chicago Sun-Times, November 27, 2003: "Nick Smith was told business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote. When he still declined, fellow Republican House members told him they would make sure Brad Smith never came to Congress. After (Rep.) Nick Smith voted no and the bill passed, (Rep.) Duke Cunningham of California and other Republicans taunted him that his son was dead meat";

Whereas the cost of the Prescription Drug bill was a critical factor in determining the votes of many Members of Congress and Richard S. Foster, the chief actuary for the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services, conducted numerous estimates indicating the cost to be much higher, including a June 11, 2003 analysis of a similar plan in the Senate which would have cost $551 billion over ten years and Members were not made aware of this;


Whereas in a clear conflict of interest the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, former Representative Billy Tauzin (R-LA), was actively engaged in a job search with the pharmaceutical industry at the same time that he was a key negotiator on major provisions in the bill, and after its passage, he subsequently left Congress to take a highly-paid executive position with the head of the pharmaceutical lobby, and is reportedly making many times his congressional salary;

Whereas the Republican Leadership's submissiveness to the influence of corporate interests, and their illegitimate efforts to overturn the will of the House to pass flawed legislation like the Prescription Drug bill, which was written to meet the needs of drug companies, call into question the legitimacy of the laws they enact and the agenda they pursue;

Whereas the culture of corruption has so permeated the Republican Leadership that they will violate their own Rules and the customs and decorum of the House to win votes on the floor of the House of Representatives;

Therefore, be it resolved that:

The House denounces the culture of corruption exhibited by the Republican Leadership, denounces the ongoing resort to illegitimate actions taken to pass legislation like the Prescription Drug bill under false pretenses, rejects the practice of improperly holding votes open beyond a reasonable period of time for the sole purpose of circumventing the will of the House, and directs the Speaker to take such steps as necessary to prevent any further abuse.

It should come as a surprise to no one that John Kline voted to table this bill. For that matter, so did every Republican present at the time. So John Kline is now on the record for supporting the culture of corruption exhibited by the Republican Leadership, the ongoing resort to illegitimate actions taken to pass legislation under false pretenses, and the practice of improperly holding votes open beyond a reasonable period of time for the sole purpose of circumventing the will of the House.

This isn't just one liberal's opinion, mind you. It's documented fact.