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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.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

John Kline's Summer Vacation: 2005

In July 2005, John Kline made exactly one speech of any substance on the floor of the House. On July 12, he spoke in support of the "Occupational Safety and Health Small Employer Access to Justice Act of 2005," which mandated that small employers (defined as those with fewer than 100 employees and a net worth less than $7 million) should be fully and unconditionally reimbursed for court costs when they successfully mount a legal challenge to an OSHA enforcement action.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of the Occupational Safety and Health Small Employer Access to Justice Act. And I read it that way in the quotes for a purpose. The gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Norwood) mentioned earlier that we have heard language today that ranged on a wide variety of subjects, and I am not sure at all that they were talking about the issue before us today.

This legislation that is before us now is one of four bills under consideration today which reflects the commitment of the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Norwood) and me and my colleagues to improve the effectiveness of OSHA regulations and changes the environment that has hindered U.S. employers from creating and keeping more jobs.

I have listened to language today earlier this afternoon on these four bills that talked about us losing millions of jobs to China and elsewhere. The purpose of the legislation that we are talking about today is to, in fact, help create and keep jobs here in America. I will repeat what my friend from Georgia said earlier today, that the OSHA Small Employer Access to Justice Act levels the playing field for small business owners and encourages OSHA to better assess the merits of a case before it brings unnecessary enforcement actions to court against small business.

Loopholes in the current law make it possible for small businesses to be denied attorneys fees, and as my friends said, therefore, not even take the case to court because they simply cannot afford to defend themselves against a case brought against them by OSHA. This exacerbates the financial harm called by OSHA's sometimes dubious enforcement actions and discourages small business owners from seeking the restitution which rightly belongs to them. By closing this loophole, we ensure it is in everyone's best interest.

Here's a case where I actually agree with Kline. I believe in OSHA's mission; I believe it is important to have strict regulation and oversight to guarantee worker safety.

On the other hand, I also believe that OSHA should only take action against employers --- especially small employers --- when they have a solid case. Beyond ensuring simple fairness, so that small businesses have the option to challenge OSHA's findings when they believe it is unfair, this legislation will also force OSHA regulators and litigators to do their jobs better.

So, score this one as a plus for Kline. This bill passed the House by a 235-187 margin on July 12, but it appears no corresponding measure ever passed the Senate.

Kline finally returned to his first-term form after this, making speeches honoring the Memorial Rifle Squad at Fort Snelling and the Red Wing Shoe Company, and serving as Speaker Pro Tem once more on July 18.

Congress did not convene in August.

In September, Kline once again served as Speaker Pro Tem on September 13, and on September 20, he spoke in favor of extending his HEROES Act, which would otherwise have expired on September 30.

The House convened on 13 days in October; Kline didn't say a word during any of them.

On November 1, Kline spoke in favor of a bill naming a post office after Al Quie. On November 15 he once again served as Speaker Pro Tem. And on November 16 he spoke in favor of legislation restoring 1290 acres of tribal land which were seized in 1934 (800 acres of which have since been flooded by the Army Corps of Engineers) back to the Prairie Island Indian community. Good for him. The legislation passed by a voice vote.

An Issues Oriented, Honest Campaign: Study 1

In a recent post, we examined John Kline's most recent fundraising letter in some detail, noting that while he pledges to "run an issues oriented, honest campaign," the letter itself discusses no policy issues and makes a number of (to put it charitably) uncharitable remarks about his opponent, Coleen Rowley, and her campaign.

By way of contrast, let's take a look at Coleen Rowley's latest fundraising letter. Note how it lists seven issues of national significance and Rowley's position on them:

"We need to show America that Democrats stand for real change: a clear strategy to bring our troops home safe and stabilize Iraq; economic and health care policies that serve American families; an energy strategy that actually breaks our addiction to foreign oil, not just an empty promise to do so. We need to make education and balancing the budget top priorities again. Most importantly, we need to put an end to the Republican culture of corruption through aggressive ethics reform.

Further note that the strongest statements she makes about John Kline are: he won't make the changes she supports, and Kline's representation is "politics as usual" (or "business as usual", there seems to be a bit of confusion on that point). Notably lacking are statements calling Kline or his campaign "nasty", "ugly", "insincere", "radical" or "absurd".

You may wish to show Coleen Rowley or John Kline which fundraising letter you find most persuasive.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Kline Speaks! (About the DPW Sale)

Four days ago, I wrote about John Kline's lack of responsiveness, and openly speculated how long it would be before I learned his position on Bush's NSA surveillance and the sale of port operations at six (later revealed to be 21) U.S. ports.

Today, I got an answer to my second question, though it was not addressed to me personally, and it was typically terse (Kline appears to save his long speeches steeped in rhetoric for the House floor). In the February 25 issue of ThisWeek Eagan, we read:

I am very skeptical about the wisdom of letting a company from UAE run our ports. This seems like a bad idea to me. I will work against it unless the administration can convince me otherwise. The burden is on the administration to convince us that this is a wise thing to do.

I like Kline's position for two reasons. First, he is showing independence from the president. Second, he is showing a healthy, reasoned skepticism about the wisdom of the deal without reflexively demanding that it be blocked under all circumstances.

I agree that skepticism is warranted, but since the experts all seem to agree that the sale poses no real security danger, I find myself in the unusual position of believing that George Bush's position on this issue is the correct one.

The thing I don't like about Kline's response is that he makes the same mistake that politicians in both parties and most of the media seem to be making when discussing U.S. ports: that Bush and the Republican-led Congress have been so negligent in acting to secure our ports that it hardly matters whether they're run by Dubai Ports World or George Bush himself:

Only 4 percent or 5 percent of those containers are inspected. There is virtually no standard for how containers are sealed, or for certifying the identities of thousands of drivers who enter and leave the ports to pick them up. If a nuclear weapon is put inside a container ---— the real fear here ---— "it will probably happen when some truck driver is paid off to take a long lunch, before he even gets near a terminal," said Mr. Flynn, the ports security expert.

For more than four years, Democrats (and a few Republicans) have been working to focus attention and funding on what is probably our greatest vulnerability to terrorist attack: our commercial ports. Unfortunately the majority of Republicans --- including John Kline --- have consistently voted down those proposals (although House Republicans have not been nearly so obstructionist as those in the Senate). Kline voted to kill an amendment which would have added $250 million to port security grants, and against another that would have added $400 million. The second amendment also would have required DHS to developer cargo container inspection standards and integration of container inspection equipment and data.

Sadly, it appears that Republicans like George Bush and John Kline are more concerned with the appearance that they're doing something about national security than they are in actually taking action to make our nation secure.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Kline Record By the Numbers

There has already been a moderate amount of controversy over John Kline's voting record, especially regarding veterans issues. When I get the time, I intend to dig into Kline's floor votes myself, but I just discovered a great post by jmjm at Dump John Kline which lists how various special interest groups rate Kline's voting record.

The short version is, it's none too good.

While clicking through the links on this post, I discovered a wealth of information on Kline's voting record, as ranked by all kinds of groups concerned with all kinds of issues. And this sheds some light on Kline's record on vets' issues. Apparently he was a veteran's best friend during his first year in office, but has since fallen to a 0% ranking, at least the way the Disabled American Veterans see it.

Wander over and see how Kline's done for your pet issues.


There are many words one might use to describe John Kline: "responsive" is not among them.

In my first post last October 6, I wrote a letter to Kline urging his "bold and forceful" support of the McCain anti-torture amendment. Since then, I've written two additional open letters to Kline. And of course, there was my failed attempt to find out which votes Kline was referring to when he claimed to have "voted for an increase of more than 21 percent in total veterans' funding".

So far, there has been no response of any kind from Kline's office, despite the fact that, in the "21 percent" case at least, I received personal assurances from Kline's staffers that they would provide the info I requested. And in case you're wondering, I didn't just throw those open letters up on my blog; I emailed them to Kline and sent them to his D.C. office via ground mail. So whatever the reason for Kline's unresponsiveness, it hasn't been my lack of trying.

In fact, I can think of only two possible explanations: either Kline hardly responds to any constituent inquiries, or he's figured out I'm not a supporter and so ashcans any correspondence from me. Neither explanation makes him look too good; after all I'm just as much Kline's constituent as John Hinderaker, and Kline sits for interviews with him. And supporter or not, Kline can be confident I'll report his replies accurately; I doubt any other blogger has taken the time to faithfully document large sections of Kline's House floor speeches, or publish an image of Kline's latest fundraising letter.

So today, I started a test. I phoned Kline's D.C. office, and spoke to a very nice young staffer. I told her I had two questions for Kline, which I posed in a neutral manner:

  • What is Kline's position on Bush's decision to authorize NSA surveillance of U.S. citizens without obtaining a warrant from the FISA court? (Unbelievably, it appears that Kline has gone for more than two months without commenting on this issue).
  • What is Kline's position on Bush's recent decision to allow a company owned by the United Arab nation of Dubai to take control of ports on the Eastern Seaboard?

This young woman wrote down my name, address, phone number and questions (or so I was led to believe), and told me that I would get an answer. Let's see how long it takes.

Note to Kline's staffers: Of course you could always end the suspense by answering my questions, instead of just passively monitoring the site.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

John Kline Protests WAY Too Much, and Asks for Money

Colonel Klink

1960's sitcom icon Colonel Klink

John Kline

Congressman John Kline
Does this man look like a Nazi?

A source of controversy . . . and cash?

John Kline wants you to feel sorry for him.

For about 24 hours at the end of January, the bottom photo appeared on Coleen Rowley's campaign website. Most observers agree that this was a mistake on her part; a congressional campaign shouldn't be about mocking your opponent. Kline complained, Rowley took the photo down and apologized, and reasonable people assumed the matter had been put to rest.

However, John Kline saw a moneymaking opportunity. The controversial photo immediately elicited a fundraising letter from Kline's campaign office, and another just a few days ago. In this letter and elsewhere, Kline repeats the mantra that he wants "an issues oriented, honest campaign" based on "issues and ideas". Which "issues and ideas" are Kline campaigning on here?

In a one-page letter, Kline manages to use the words "nasty", "ugly", "insincere", "radical", and "absurd" to describe Rowley's supporters, her campaign, or Rowley herself. He accuses her of crossing the "line of civility, respect, common decency and above all, honesty" by making "increasingly outrageous statements, accusations and insults" (emphasis Kline's), including "direct assaults on my character", "thinly veiled innuendos" and "many gross distortions" of Kline's positions. Kline himself professes to be both "shocked" and "outraged" by her antics.

That's an awful lot of ire over a single photograph. And although Kline suggests that Rowley has stooped to the gutter on many occasions, as if this photograph were the final straw, he fails to mention the specifics of any of them (this isn't the first time Kline has failed to back up his claims). But since Rowley has supposedly been slinging mud "since the beginning of her campaign" last July, surely Kline has documented all of her chicanery on his own campaign site, right?

Nope. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Nothing too much about issues or ideas, for that matter. It's mostly just a collection of news items involving Kline, all of them nearly two years old or more, and a bunch of dead links. So it looks like we're stuck doing the research ourselves. At Rowley's campaign site we find:

There is precious little evidence of "outrageous statements, accusations and insults" on Rowley's campaign site, or innuendos or gross distortions either. Indeed, it seems that Kline's allegations of Rowley's dirty tricks are greatly overstated (fabricated?) in the hopes that sympathetic constituents will feel sorry for him and dig out their checkbooks. Not really what one would expect from a man who places a high value on "civility, respect, common decency and above all, honesty".

And while Kline has Rowley dead to rights with the Col. Klink photo --- it did appear on her website, with her approval --- even with this Kline isn't being honest with his donor base.

The Real Nazis

The Real Nazis

For one thing, they didn't graft Kline's face onto a picture of a Nazi, they photoshopped it onto a picture of a character from a bad 1960's sitcom. And while one could argue that although Klink is an ineffectual, bumbling toady, he is nonetheless an officer in the Nazi Army, "Nazi" is hardly the first thing which leaps to mind when you think of Klink.

Getting compared to Col. Klink is pretty much like getting compared to Dr. Evil of Austin Powers fame. There are a lot of reasons to be offended by the comparison, but not because of what it says about your politics or reputation.


Would putting Kline's face on this photo trigger another round of fundraising?

Kline Believes DeLay is Innocent

On Friday, John Kline gave a brief talk and Q&A session at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, MN. From what I've heard, it was a pretty pro forma talk, with one notable exception.

Apparently Kline insisted that he still believes that Tom DeLay is innocent, and Kline only called for him to step down as majority leader so Congress could get on with its business. We have already noted Kline's failure to denounce DeLay for his corruption, but it's quite remarkable for Kline to publicly insist on DeLay's innocence, since, you know, DeLay has already admitted to money laundering.

I suppose this is yet another example of Kline's bottomless faith in the integrity of the Republican leadership, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary.

Kline and the International Criminal Court: The U.S. is Above the Law

The final bit of Kline's Congressional Record from June 2005 which merits scrutiny is an amendment he offered to a bill called the United Nations Reform Act of 2005, offered by Henry Hyde of Illinois. The name and author should tell you all you need to know about the bill, but Hyde somehow neglected to include a traditional right-wing favorite: exempting the United States from the authority of the International Criminal Court.

Kline immediately stepped in to fill the gap with an amendment, which he supported as follows:

I want to be very clear that I am in strong support of this legislation that has come forward by the Committee on International Relations, but there are things that raise my interest and my concern.

A few weeks ago media outlets throughout the world proudly parroted Amnesty International's unfounded charges of torture and ill treatment in the so-called America "gulags." Instead of condemning the government-inflicted famine in Kim Jong-Il's North Korea or continued human rights abuses in Castro's Cuba, the executive director of Amnesty International USA revealed the true goal of organizations such as his when he called on foreign governments to arrest and prosecute U.S. Government officials and military personnel. We want to make sure that we have got language in here that would prevent that.

The Belgian experience, for example, and recent propaganda espoused by Amnesty International shows that we were wise to doubt the merchants who were peddling "universal jurisdiction" at the cost of national sovereignty. Indeed, even President Clinton did not send the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court to the U.S. Senate because of its fundamental flaws.

The United States is a Nation dedicated to justice and the rule of law, and we cannot allow these fundamental protections to be stripped from our servicemen and women performing peacekeeping missions, and I think we in this body need to be ever vigilant to ensure that that does not happen.

Let's get the easy stuff out of the way. Amnesty International has reported at length about human rights abuses in both North Korea and Cuba, which refutes Kline's allegation the Amnesty report is just anti-U.S. propaganda. Moreover, Amnesty's allegations are hardly "ill-founded"; Guantanamo Bay alone is an horrendous example of official U.S. abuse of detainees, which is all the more egregious since many of the prisoners at Guantanamo are known to be innocent.

The so-called "War on Terror" has also seen the U.S. engage in extraordinary rendition and the creation of black sites. And of course, there's Abu Ghraib.

Amnesty may have overreached in using the word "gulag", and for that reason Kline and other administration apologists have succeeded in distracting the country with a tirade on semantics. If Amnesty places disproportionate emphasis on the sins of the United States, it is only because the U.S. has traditionally held itself to a much higher standard than other nations. But in 5 short years, we have become a country which imprisons hundreds, perhaps thousands of people indefinitely with little or no evidence of wrongdoing and without legal counsel, periodically subjecting them to inhuman treatment such as sleep deprivation, humiliation, physical abuse and worse. And leaders like John Kline not only refuse to put an end to it, they have the gall to stand on the floor of Congress and insist that it isn't happening, even as they proudly proclaim that America is still "a Nation dedicated to justice and the rule of law".

When I learned the Pledge of Allegiance as a child, I was taught that "liberty and justice for all" actually means something. Apparently what it means to Kline is "we aren't yet as bad as the gulags".

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Kline's Obsession with Military Recruitment

In the previous post, I noted that on June 24, 2005, Kline spoke in opposition to an amendment in a Department of Education bill. Rather than attempting to describe it, I'll let Kline's words speak for themselves:

This amendment would prohibit the Department of Education from withholding Title I dollars from school districts that do not provide private student information to military recruiters. Under the guise of "privacy rights," our military recruiters would be denied the same access to our nation's best young minds that is regularly provided to recruiters for colleges or businesses.

Mr. Chairman, military service can be a noble and fulfilling choice for our young men and women--including my son, a career Army officer. Planning for the future can be an overwhelming experience. As they consider their postsecondary options, our nation's students deserve to be fully equipped with the information they need to make good decisions.

Giving military recruiters access to college campuses is one of Kline's pet issues, and it appears he extends his concern to high schools as well. Kline believes that the Department of Education should withhold funding from public high schools who refuse to provide student information to military recruiters. While I agree that public schools have an obligation to expose their students to all career options, including military, I vehemently disagree that the schools have an obligation to give private student information to anybody --- and that includes the military.

Unfortunately, as I learned which researching this issue, current law already requires schools to provide this information to the military, in a little-noticed part of the No Child Left Behind act. Exceptions are only made for students or parents who explicitly notify their school not to give information to military recruiters, and private schools which object on religious grounds. How appropriate for this administration that a school can object on religious grounds, but not on the grounds of personal privacy.

Personal information about an individual belongs to that individual, to disseminate as they need or desire. For minors, their parent or legal guardian has an obligation to guide them to wise decisions about divulging their personal information. That's where it ends. If schools are routinely giving this information to colleges and business recruiters without student consent (and I find it really hard to believe that they are), then Congress should put an end to it, instead of demanding that schools give that information to the military too.

The most likely reason military recruitment is down is that young people see how badly this administration treats its uniformed personnel. High school seniors are understandably hesitant to commit their lives into the hands of people who have demonstrated incompetence and callous disregard for human life and the rule of law time and time again. That means military recruitment will continue to suffer until the voters get rid of the Gang the Can't Shoot Straight. Since Kline is a loyal supporter of that gang, he needs to suck it up instead of pressing schools to turn young, impressionable students over to the hands and high-pressure sales pitch of military recruiters.

Update: In fairness to Kline, it appears that forcing high schools and colleges to give military recruiters unlimited access to their students isn't the only remedy he supports for anemic military recruiting. Apparently he also wants to raise military pay, saying "If we’re going to get thousands of young men and women running down to join an 'Army of One' we’re going to have to spend some money". Good for him.

Kline's Congressional Record: June 2005

In June, 2005, Kline took the following actions on the floor of the House:

  1. On June 7, he made a speech honoring Cheri Rezak and those who volunteered with her to assist Sri Lankans affected by the December 2004 tsunami.
  2. On June 13, he made a speech honoring the Sigma Chi fraternity on its 150th anniversary.
  3. Also on June 13, he made a speech commending the establishment, in College Point, New York, of the first kindergarten in the United States.
  4. On June 14, he led the pledge of allegiance.
  5. On June 16, he offered an amendment to a proposed United Nations Reform Act (more on this later).
  6. On June 21, he made a speech honoring those who perished in the failed 1980 attempt to liberate U.S. hostages from Tehran. It was his usual speech full of flag-waving rhetoric, but this one passage caught my eye:

    Madam Speaker, a fitting tribute to the men of Operation Eagle Claw is to learn from their experience and apply these lessons to the challenges facing our men and women in uniform today. Some of those have been discussed by my colleagues here on the floor: the creation of the United States Special Operations Command, the joint effort, new technology that is being developed and employed and tested sometimes in battle today.

    We must bear in mind the importance of continuing to provide our troops with the resources they need to succeed in a mission and not launch them out with equipment simply unsuited for the job.

    It's interesting that Kline makes this perfectly valid point, yet has never said a word in the Congressional Record about the fact that we sent troops to Iraq with woefully inadequate body armor.
  7. On June 24, Kline spoke in opposition to an amendment in an education bill (more on that later).
That is all.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Kline, Defense, and Immigration Policy

There are two parts to this post. Part one is a speech Kline gave in May 2005. Part two is some analysis. Folks who aren't especially interested in Kline's speeches should jump to the bottom.

As I mentioned in the previous post, last May Kline participated in the discussion about the annual Defense Authorization Act. But just barely, it turns out.

In more than 150 pages of discussion in the Congressional Record, Kline only contributes one time, to oppose an amendment which would empower the Secretary of Defense to assign members of the armed forces to assist the Department of Homeland Security in its border patrol duties. Here is the full text of Kline's speech:

Mr. Chairman, I thank my friend for yielding me this time, and I rise in opposition to the amendment put forward by my good friend, the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Goode). While I support his intention with all my heart to provide increased border security to our Nation, I would remind my colleagues that we have been taking action in this Congress, and will take more, to increase the number of border patrol, and as my friend, the gentleman from Texas, said, to pass a REAL ID Act, and to take steps where professional law enforcement officials are stepping up to provide security for our borders.

I oppose this amendment because of my fear of what it does to our Armed Forces at a time when we are stretched incredibly thin. I think back to my days on active duty, and my son's service now on active duty, and how hard they are training for this war on terror, how much time they are spending deployed, and to think we are now going to ask more of them.

My colleague from Arizona mentioned 8,000 miles of border. I am afraid that in our eagerness to defend the border, we will call more and more on our men and women in the Armed Forces and put them in a very untenable position where they are poorly trained to do a job that should be done by professional law enforcement officers and taking them away from their primary mission and stretching them ever thinner in their primary duties. So, reluctantly, I oppose this amendment.

I agree with Kline here. To say that our armed forces are "stretched incredibly thin" is an understatement, and I further agree that border patrol is a law enforcement matter, not a military one, at least until there's an organized assault on our borders. Of course, this speech also undermines Kline's attempt to position himself as tough on illegal immigration in the fall campaign.

But there's a larger issue here. The heart of Kline's appeal as a candidate is his 25-year stint in the USMC and the strong support for our troops and veterans which that implies. And Kline is well-positioned to deliver that support, as he sits on the Armed Services Committee.

But where, exactly, is the support? With the election still almost 9 months away, we've already seen charges and countercharges about the votes Kline has cast for and against veterans. But whether Kline or Rowley presents the most accurate picture of Kline's voting record, voting is a passive activity --- not what one would expect from a fighter.

Congress debates and passes a Defense Authorization Act every year. That means there has been a protracted debate about defense and veterans issues at least three times since Kline took office, but Kline has not once stood up to make a strong argument for the needs of our troops or veterans during any of them.

Leaders lead. Leaders who list their support of the military as their chief qualification need to put their support into action, rather than simply voting "aye" or "nay" on the legislation that passes before them.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Kline's Congressional Record: May 2005

As I've been browsing the Congressional Record, I have made frequent uncharitable comments to the effect that Kline rarely contributes on the House floor, and when he does, his contributions are almost universally airy speeches full of apple pie and rhetoric, and signifying nothing.

But in the early months of 2005, Kline was a changed man, I must admit. If nothing else, he engaged the House more frequently (but it doesn't last; I cheated and looked ahead to see how it ends. He reverts to form by the end of the year).

May of 2005 is his most involved month so far, contributing on no fewer than seven occasions, two of them on issues of substance. We'll hit the substantial issues (defense and --- ugh --- Social Security again) in future posts, but just for the record (hey, that's what we do here):

  1. On May 3, Kline served as Speaker Pro Tem.
  2. On May 4, Kline made a speech in honor of Lakeville schools' "Challenge to Change" program.
  3. On May 5, Kline made a speech about the status of the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan (reproduced in full below).
  4. On May 11, he discussed Social Security again. The only new material was this bit:

    "If you look back to when Social Security started, under the urging of President Roosevelt, the average life expectancy was around 61. I know it changes if you are a man or if you are a woman and so forth, but the general life expectancy was about 61. By the way, retirement age was 65. A very interesting concept they had back then. But, today, the life expectancy is on the order of 77 years. And as we look at the retirement situation for my children and grandchildren, life expectancy is around 83 or 84 years. Clearly, we are living longer, we are having smaller families, and we are going to end up in the situation where the demographic changes in this country are going to put us in a position where there simply are not enough people working in order to provide the benefits for our retirees."

  5. On May 17, Kline honored the Hosanna Church Junior High Youth Group for their efforts on behalf of Iraqi schoolchildren.
  6. On May 19, Kline gave the following short summary of progress in the drive to reform Social Security:

    "Mr. Speaker, I rise today to highlight the progress, yes, the progress we are making towards meaningful reform of an ailing Social Security system.

    Because of the efforts of my colleagues and President Bush to communicate the truth of the impending Social Security shortfall, Americans are talking, and their elected representatives are listening.

    I know I am only one of many Members who have been hosting listening sessions to hear the questions and concerns of my constituents on these important issues. On every one of these meetings, ideas are put forth. Many Members have translated these ideas into legislative proposals. Though the details differ, the message remains the same: we must do something to ensure Social Security will remain strong for our children and our grandchildren.

    Unfortunately, not all Members are equally committed to solving the problem. Some opponents of reform have admitted that they would rather stand in the way of honest debate than be part of the solution. Mr. Speaker, this is a disservice to the constituents they represent and the millions of Americans who would benefit from reform.

    I would encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to be part of the solution, not part of the problem."

  7. On May 24, he served as Speaker Pro Tem again.
  8. On May 25, he spoke about the Defense Authorization Act (more to follow), honored the Daughters of the American Revolution and led the Pledge of Allegiance.

Here's the full text of Kline's assessment of the situation in the Middle East:

Mr. Speaker, we have had several important events occur in the last weeks and days, and today of course we passed a very historic piece of legislation in the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act to make sure that our country is safer, that our troops have what they need for this war on terror.

All of this prompted me to think that it was time to sort of recap where we are, where we have been, where we are, and where we are going in this war against the Islamic extremists who attacked us so horrifically and so viciously on September 11.

We also have coming up tomorrow Military Spouse Appreciation Day, and that certainly is one of those events that the timing of which has come together to make me want to come to the floor and discuss with my colleagues our progress in this war on terror.

I hope to be joined by some more of my colleagues here in a minute. We had a little bit of scrambling to get the timing right. The early vote today had people out of pocket, as we used to say.

Let me start by just recapping some of the really, really big events that we have seen happen in the last few months. I have a picture here next to me that I think is absolutely astonishing in its implication.

These are women in Afghanistan who are serving now as police officers in the Afghani security forces. Just think about that. Before September 11, before we were attacked, before our country decided to step out and defend itself and freedom loving nations of the world by going after the brutal terrorists who had attacked us in Afghanistan, these women could not be seen in public without being shrouded from head to toe. They had no place in official Afghani society. They could not go to school.

It is remarkable to think what has happened with the free elections last year in Afghanistan that elected President Karzai and has resulted in women going to school, a woman, a 19-year-old Afghani woman being the first Afghani in history to cast a vote in a free election, and look at them today. To me it is just remarkable and speaks volumes about what has happened in the last couple of years and in the last few months.

Often we see the news here and I have got to tell you that our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq see the news as well. I was just over in both Afghanistan and Iraq in January of this year before the elections in Iraq, and I had the chance to talk to many of our soldiers and Marines who were engaged in combat. And they almost universally, their only complaint was that their story, the story of their hard work and their successes was not being told in the news, because the news that shows up on television and in our newspapers is so heavily weighted to the tough events.

It is a tough security situation in and around Baghdad. There is no question about it. But those soldiers and those Marines, they see the stories of the explosions and the attacks and they do not see the stories of their successes and the friendships that they are making and the progress they are making in helping free countries to become established as democracies in this world.

There is another picture which I want to put up here and share. And I know many of you have seen this picture many times and it speaks absolute volumes about the difference in Iraq today and when Saddam Hussein had the Iraqi people under his iron fist. What a telling story this young woman with the purple ink on her fingers indicating that she had voted. And I know when I was over in Iraq with my colleagues in January, and this was before this historic election, and we were talking with American forces and with Iraqi leaders including then the Interim Prime Minister Allawi, and the then U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte.

We were talking about the prospects for the election coming up and they were great concerns, you may remember, that the election could not go off on time, that no one would show up to vote. That it was going to be a disaster. And I can tell you that the American forces and the Iraqis and our coalition partners were adamant in saying that the elections must go forward. To not have those elections go forward on time would be a disaster, and one which it would be almost impossible to recover from.

And they told us, my colleagues and I, the five of us, three Republicans and two Democrats, and by the way, it is sometimes forgotten, I know that it is sometimes forgotten around America that we can come together and work together in a bipartisan way on a number of issues. And certainly taking care of our troops and doing everything we can to ensure victory in this absolutely tough war that we are engaged in is one of those times.

But we were told by the leaders in Iraq that the elections must go forward, that they would go forward, and that there was security on a scale that had not been seen before, to do everything in the power of the Iraqi security forces and the Americans to make sure that the election took place.

I know that, like my colleagues, I was glued to the television and watching this election day unfold in Iraq, throughout the country; and I was astonished as the day unfolded that the Iraqis were coming, sometimes walking for miles, walking for miles to cast their vote and to proudly dip their finger in the purple ink and thus brand themselves to the terrorists as someone who has defied their threats, the threats to kill them and to cast their vote. They came by the millions and voted.

Today, we have seen this week the Iraqi government sworn in as a result of those elections. They get engaged in politics there like we do here, and not everybody agrees on everything. There was a great deal of wrangling going on there by people who do not have experience in a democracy, and I found that they engaged in it a lot of the same ways as we do here. They tried to cajole each other and threaten each other and twist each other's arms and make deals and move forward towards democracy.

So this week, May 3, Iraq's first democratically elected government in over half a century was sworn in. This event is yet another historic milestone in Iraq's progress toward a representative and transparent government. Our goal, can my colleagues imagine when we have a free Iraq, Iraq with a democratically elected government in power, the force that that free country will have in this region, the help that it will give us in the war on terror in which we are so heavily engaged?

The freedom epitomized by this picture in Afghanistan and this picture from Iraq is so important to our success in defeating these Islamic extremists in gaining back peace for us and security and safety for us and for our neighbors and for the world.

Iraq's new prime minister, Mr. Jafari, has completed the selection of cabinet members, and again, remember how tough this is to do, of different factions in Iraq. He is trying to work with all of them; and even though the Sunnis, in large measure, had boycotted the January election, they have been seeking to be included in this government. I think it is fair and safe to say that many of them wish that they had not chosen to boycott, that they, too, had chosen to walk the miles and stick their finger in the ink and be a part of this great step for freedom and democracy in the world.

According to the report that I am looking at here, the position of defense minister will now be held by a Sunni Arab, even though the Sunnis had largely boycotted the election. The current composition of the cabinet is as follows: 15 Shiite Arab ministers, 7 Kurds, 4 Sunnis, and 1 Christian. This newly formed cabinet is now tasked to write a permanent Iraqi Constitution and must organize fresh elections for the end of this year. This process continues, ever growing, ever adding to their freedom and to democracy in that country, and thereby, I believe, very strongly, adding to our own security and to a better world.

Now, we know that the fight still goes on, and we see those news reports that the soldiers and Marines were a little bit unhappy. But unhappy or not, the facts are that it is still pretty tough out there, and our soldiers and Marines are engaged in combat. U.S. and Iraqi forces have captured over 100 insurgents in Baghdad in 1 day this week. Twelve al Qaeda members were killed close to the Syrian border on Monday of this week. The fighting goes on.

We took, as I said in my opening comments, a very important step today in passing the supplemental funding bill. It did some very major things, and I see that one of my colleagues has walked in, and I do not know if he is ready to talk about that bill. I see a nod from his head, and so I would be happy to yield to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. McCaul).

. . .

Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for his remarks today and for his passion about the issues.

We did many things in passing this supplemental, and the details on enhancing our border security are part of our war against the Islamic extremists in this war on terrorism. Those are important steps that we took today in terms of funding and beefing up that security that is so important to our safety here at home.

We did a number of other things in this bill that I think it is useful for us to think about and talk about for just a minute. Clearly, the bulk of the money that we are going to appropriate today, almost $76 billion, went for defense, things that our troops need in order to win in this war.

Today, in the Committee on Armed Services, we had a hearing and listened to testimony from generals in the Army and the Marine Corps about the progress that we are making in adding armor to our vehicles, to our wheeled vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, and we are making progress. It seems never enough, armor's not thick enough, there is not enough of it. We should never be satisfied, I suppose, until every soldier and Marine is fully protected; but that is simply not possible.

This is a war. It is combat. We need to make sure that we are doing everything that we can to provide our soldiers and Marines with the tools that they need and yet know that combat is a dangerous and, sadly, sometimes fatal business.

I know in our office this week we have been very saddened. My Legislative Director, Miss Jean Hinz, lost her cousin, a Marine, who was killed flying an F-18 over Iraq. These stories wrench at your heart as you put the human and personal face on the result of the sacrifices that our troops are making in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world.

We did something else in this bill that I think is important that we remember. We need very much for our new Democratic allies in the region, the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, to succeed. So we added money to help the people of Afghanistan, these women and their families and their fellow Afghani citizens, $1.7 billion to help them in Afghanistan. It is important for their development, it is important as they reach for democracy, and it is important for us as we seek victory in this war and peace in the world.

Well, it has been mentioned a time or two that we have a convergence of events here. I think most of my colleagues and most Americans know, or they will remember in sort of a cold sweat here in the next day or so, that this Sunday is Mother's Day, and I know there is always a rush to get those flowers and buy the candy and do those things. Tomorrow is also Military Spouse Appreciation Day. What a nice occurrence that we have Military Spouse Appreciation Day coming together with Mother's Day. This year Military Spouse Appreciation Day falls on the 6th, which is tomorrow. We celebrate this day each year on the Friday before Mother's Day.

So, you see, the confluence of those two events is not an accident, but a reinforcing one of the other. Military Spouse Appreciation Day is set aside to honor the many men and women who bravely support their spouses in uniform, and this reminds us of the importance of the families of our soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines who are making such sacrifices. So in the supplemental bill which we just passed, we add money for life insurance, we add money to give to the families of the soldiers who lose their lives, a death gratuity increase from $12,000 to $100,000 and the life insurance from $250,000 to $400,000.

We need to keep these families in mind. And I have another picture here, a scene seen so often as a member of our Armed Forces prepares to leave or comes home from or to the loving arms of his or her family. We need to make sure that we are doing the things that we can, those of us in this body, my colleagues and I, to make sure we are doing everything, not only for the soldier, but for the child as well.

So as we recognize Military Spouse Appreciation Day, I think we need to do it in the context of the family, of the military family. Now more than ever it is particularly important to recognize and celebrate, and celebrate, our military spouses, those thousands who remain on the home front while their spouses have been deployed overseas to help fight in this war on terror. Like our military men and women, the military spouse's bravery goes unparalleled. They remain the strength that we do not always see but is ever present. And I know that is true from my own experience in the military, the importance of that family and the love that goes with it.

This weekend we take the time to appreciate all military spouses and moms nationwide for their strength, unity, patriotism and bravery. Their jobs are not easy, but it is these wonderful individuals that keep this country strong and remind us every day, remind us every day, of what we are fighting for.

So on this weekend we want to say thank you to the military spouses across the Nation and, of course, happy Mother's Day to our mothers. And I, like many of you, will need to be on my way to the store to buy that box of candy. Such a simple gesture, but every gesture we make reaching out to those that are so important in our own lives and to our men and women in uniform is something we have to do.

I have one more picture I would like to put up as a way of kind of wrapping up my thoughts and comments today. Thanks for your support, the sign says, with these servicemen and women. And that thanks for your support needs to go every way in our country; them to their families, them to the rest of us in America, and we, the rest of us in America, to them and to our neighbors around the world. It takes support, it takes family support, it takes all of our support for our men and women in combat. And I believe it is incumbent upon all of us, all my colleagues, all Americans, every day in every way that we can to tell our men and women in uniform how much we love them and care for them and want to ensure their success and make sure that they have everything that they need in order to win this war.

So sort of wrapping up, if you look back to what we have done, and sometimes we forget, we now have free men and women in Afghanistan for the first time ever. A democracy in Afghanistan. The first time ever in 5,000 years. There were women who could not go outside the house who are now serving proudly, serving their country and serving their fellow citizens proudly and looking forward to the advancements of democracy in that country and giving them some hope for the future. One of the poorest countries in the world beaten down by the brutal dictatorship under the Taliban and now free in a democracy growing with hope for the future.

And in Iraq, in Iraq, the purple fingers, the Iraqis walking for miles, defying threats of death to vote in a free election and establishing Iraq not as a haven for terrorists, not as the home of a brutal dictator killing tens and hundreds of thousands of his own people, but as a free democracy.

Then, as we look at the progress our troops are making, their successes in battle, their successes in establishing relationships with the people of Afghanistan and of Iraq, their successes in helping rebuild the infrastructure, we have much to be thankful for, my colleagues. But let us remember that it is not easy and it is not over, and it will take our continued vigilance in making sure that we are supporting our troops, expressing our love and support, and as we might say around here, making sure we are putting our money where our mouth is.

More From the Congressional Record: April 2005

After dissecting Kline's interminable March, 2005 presentation on Social Security, I was anticipating a quick jaunt through his usual light and infrequent contributions to the Congressional Record for the rest of 2005.

So, I submitted my search query for April, 2005, and discovered that Kline's name appears on exactly three days. On April 12, he did another stint as Speaker Pro Tem. On April 20th, he introduced a resolution in memory of those killed in the school shootings at Red Lake, Minnesota on March 21, 2005 (a bit odd since Red Lake is not in Kline's district), and . . . .

On April 19, he once again teamed up with Jim Kolbe to talk about Social Security some more.

Most of this is ground that has already been covered, so I'll edit it rather harshly and add little of my own comment. My points can easily be summarized as follows:
  1. Although skeptics like Kline and Kolbe may well be correct that Social Security is headed for problems in about 35 years, there are good reasons to believe they're wrong.
  2. Even if they are correct, the private accounts Kline and Kolbe are promoting are more likely to exacerbate the problem than solve it.
  3. The logic which claims private accounts can solve the problem is inherently flawed.

Mr. KLINE: . . . Mr. Speaker, my 84-year-old mother has been drawing Social Security, and she is at that point where it is her sole source of income. She relies on it very heavily as do millions of senior citizens, and we certainly want to make sure that all of those senior citizens get every dime that they are expecting to come their way. But we also need to make sure that our children, and my children are in their thirties, it seems every day they age another year, an indication of how old I am getting and how rapidly, my children are in their thirties and their children, my four wonderful grandchildren, are 6, 5, 3 and 3. We need to make sure that as we look forward to the future of Social Security that it is there for our grandchildren as well.

I think most Americans, but not all, and most of my colleagues know that Social Security does much more than provide for a retirement, for assistance in retirement. It provides spousal benefits, survivor benefits, dependent benefits, and disability benefits. I believe that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle would like to make sure that those benefits, that that security, that that safety net continues into the future for our children and our grandchildren.

. . .

It has changed in another fundamental way that I think that all of us, Mr. Speaker, need to be aware of. As late as 1950, and I will refer to the chart here beside me, there were 16 American workers paying for every one beneficiary. Today, we are down to 3.3 Americans working and paying taxes for every beneficiary. Again, what a demographic change in America, a demographic change in the United States, for many reasons, life expectancies are longer, and that is a good thing, we are living longer, healthier lives, families are smaller, and that trend continues. So by 2035, 2040, when younger workers retire, we will have only two Americans working for every retiree. That is a pretty tough load for younger workers to shoulder.

(((This is the only argument Kline and Kolbe make which wasn't part of their March presentation. It is a startling statistic, but also a misleading one, mostly because it ignores the fact that worker productivity has increased many-fold since 1950, and continues to grow at a brisk pace. Doug Orr has more details.)))

. . .

Let us take a look at another chart here. There are, I suppose, many ways to do this. I have been holding some town hall meetings back in my home district, the Second District of Minnesota. (((This is truly puzzling. As I noted in my earlier post, as of March 16, 2005, Kline had held no town halls on Social Security, at least according to USAToday. And I've searched the archives of the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press, the two major Twin Cities papers, for all of 2005, and neither of them mentions anything about Kline holding a town hall. And I specifically checked his web sites in March 2005 after I saw the USAToday piece, and no town hall meetings were advertised. This doesn't mean Kline didn't hold the town halls, like he claims, but at a minimum it means he did a lousy job publicizing them.)))

. . .

The Social Security Administration also pointed out in that report that the Social Security trust fund, those special-issue Treasury bonds, will run out of those bonds in the year 2041. (((Doug Orr has more on that, too. Roughly speaking, every five years, the trust fund gains another six years of solvency, which is evidence that there really isn't a problem.))) So at least on paper for a few years, we will be able to pay those benefits out of the Social Security trust fund by redeeming those special-issue Treasury bonds.

. . .

(Kline notes that many plans have been proposed for Social Security, mostly by Republicans, and . . .) In these plans, many of them, most of the ones that I have on this chart because it has been my colleagues from this side of the aisle who have come forward with the proposals for the most part, and the gentleman mentioned he has a bipartisan bill that they are looking at, but these proposals include personal accounts as part of the solution for the long-term solvency of Social Security. And there are differences in all of these, and I know the gentleman was earlier this evening in a roundtable discussion with some other authors of bills as the pros and cons of the different measures were discussed, but I think there are some things that are common that we all need to keep in mind.

. . .

But we need to reassure all of the seniors in our districts and our family that they will not be hurt; their program will not be changed. Their Social Security check will not be affected by the issues that we are debating here in the House today.

. . .

Mr. KOLBE: . . . A person who is retiring today has less than a 1 percent return on all the taxes they have paid over the years up to retirement in terms of what they are going to get out of it between now and their expected death. A person who is coming into the workforce today at the age of 21 will have a negative rate of return. In other words, they will lose money based on what they are going to pay in taxes versus what they are going to get in benefits. So it is a bleak system for young people, and we need to do something to strengthen it for them. (((I'm not sure where Kolbe is getting "negative rate of return", but there are two things to keep in mind. First, as Kline and Kolbe acknowledge, Social Security was designed to be an insurance policy, not a retirement account. If you're unfortunate enough to die the day before you retire, then you certainly got a negative return on your payroll taxes. On the other hand, if you become critically disabled at the age of 45 and live to age 95, you come out way ahead on your "investment". Insurance policies and investments are separate things which one partakes in for different reasons, but you probably want to have both for your retirement. In other words, you wouldn't want to disconnect your house from the city water supply just because you live in a climate which alternates between torrential downpours and droughts.

Second, remember that it's virtually impossible for the economy to provide large returns in the stock market without roughly equal wage growth, to which Social Security benefits are indexed. Which means there is almost zero chance that the typical American comes out ahead with private accounts versus traditional Social Security.

. . .

Mr. KLINE: It also takes money off the table, money that is in a personal account that cannot be used to fund other programs. I found in many town hall meetings people would say, well, you, Members of Congress, you spent the money on other things. If it is in a personal account, it cannot be used to fund other things; and as I mentioned in the example of the 57-year-old man or woman who dies early, in a personal account, they can leave that money, the money in the account is inheritable, they can leave it to their children or their grandchildren, so they do get something back for their 40 or more years of paying into the system. (((Yes, if a person dies before all the money in their private account has been spent, then they can certainly bequeath it to their heirs. On the flip side, if a person spends all the money in their private account before they die, then what are they left with? A reduced Social Security benefit. It's very easy to draw rosy scenarios for one position or the other, but overall, private accounts are a net loser.)))

(Much more reiteration of points already made.)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Kline Record: Iwo Jima

Kline's only other floor activity in March, 2005 was a speech honoring the soldiers who fought at Iwo Jima, which I reproduce here without further comment.

Madam Speaker, today we recognize the contributions of the United States Marine Corps, an organization which I was proud to serve for 25 years in active duty. We also honor every member of the United States Armed Forces on this the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Sixty years ago, U.S. Marines invaded the small Pacific island of Iwo Jima. Most Americans associate this event with the powerful Pulitzer Prize-winning image of the Marines raising a flag above Mount Suribachi. What many Americans may not realize, however, is that the emblematic photo, which has become a symbol of American bravery and victory, does not capture the first flag-raising at Iwo Jima that day.

Two different groups of heroes planted American flags at Iwo Jima on Mount Suribachi on that day in February of 1945, and the achievement of both groups provided and continues to provide inspiration to defenders of freedom everywhere.

The sole survivor from either flag-raising group is Minnesota's own Charles Lindberg. On that seminal day in February, Corporal Lindberg and five fellow Marines reached the base of Mount Suribachi after several days of fighting and thousands of casualties. The next morning the battalion commander, Colonel Chandler Johnson, sent them to the summit with an American flag and orders, "If you get to the top, raise it."

And raise it they did. The flag raised by Corporal Lindberg and his fellow Marines provided an immediately recognizable image of victory and became an inspiration to all who saw it. In describing the reaction to their flag raising, Corporal Lindberg states, "Boy, then the island came alive down below. The troops started to cheer, the ships' whistles went off. It was quite a proud moment."

Perhaps sensing the significance of the moment, a commander below ordered a second group to raise a larger, more stable flag in its place. Four hours after the first flag-raising, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the image of the second flag-raising, which is now recognized throughout the world. The second raising and the photograph which captured it complemented the efforts of Corporal Lindberg and his fellow Marines and enabled Americans at home, as well as the world, to share the same symbol of bravery and victory with the victorious Americans on Iwo Jima.

Both of these groups deserve our gratitude, as do all the men and women who served on Iwo Jima and elsewhere during World War II. The symbol of the flag over Iwo Jima reflects the enduring triumph of freedom and democracy, the very things for which our men and women in uniform continue to fight today.

We have much to learn from the tenacity and dedication of the brave heroes of World War II, and I am grateful for this opportunity to recognize their efforts today.

And to you, Corporal Charles Lindberg, from one Marine to another, I salute you from the floor of the House of Representatives in admiration and gratitude for your courage, bravery, and valor. Semper Fi.

The Kline Record: Social Security

Winning re-election must have given John Kline confidence or something, because starting in February 2005, his floor speeches got much longer. On March 2, 2005, Kline spoke at length on the subject of Social Security; I've edited with the aim to reduce verbosity while keeping the sense of the dialog intact. Here Kline is taking turns speaking with Jim Kolbe of Arizona.

Of course we now know that Bush, Kline, and the rest of the Republicans were unsuccessful in passing their Social Security privatization plan, although Bush has quietly revived it in his proposed 2007 budget. And while Mr. Kolbe's description of Social Security's problems accurately reflects the consensus view in March 2005, that view is based on a long-range forecast which might well prove wrong. In fact, there is reason to believe that Social Security will be just fine if we do nothing at all.

With that in mind, here's an abridged presentation of Kolbe and Kline's dialog, with editors comments (((in red))).

Mr. KLINE: . . . I know that the gentleman from Arizona (Mr. Kolbe) and all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle really would like to see a strong Social Security program. I have been telling folks, in fact, I was talking to high school students in Minnesota this last week that it is very important to me that Social Security be in place for my 84-year-old mother, and it will be in place for my 84-year-old mother. But I want Social Security to be in place, to be strong, to provide the kind of retirement safety net that our colleagues have been talking about for my 35-year-old son, my 38-year-old daughter, my 3-year-old granddaughter.

. . .

Our colleagues ascribed some motives that I think are out of place. One of them, for example, said that the President wanted to reward his buddies with his proposal, and that is simply not true. It is not fair and it ascribes a motive that is not there. One of our colleagues said that we want to gut Social Security. That is not true.

. . .

Listening to the debate, the arguments earlier this evening, it was clear that our colleagues recognize that something needs to be done. I know that the gentleman from Connecticut, I believe, said everybody knows that we have got to do something to strengthen Social Security, and other Members have said everybody knows we have to do something. And we heard a couple of proposals and increasing taxes was proposed by the gentleman from California, I believe; but if we know that something has to be done, we ought to be able to move forward and engage in the debates and engage in the discussion about what we are going to actually do to strengthen Social Security.

But I know that not everyone understands the nature of the problem and how quickly it is going to arrive, and, unfortunately, if we do not do something, how quickly it will turn into a crisis. I ask the gentleman to continue the explanation.

Mr. KOLBE: Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Kline) for his comments, and I hope he will continue to engage in this discussion here tonight.

I do want to take a few moments to talk about this particular chart up here because I think it expresses better than anything I could say verbally what the nature of the problem is that we are facing.

Going back, thinking back to the last chart where we talked about how the fewer numbers of people are paying the taxes to support the beneficiaries, the people getting the benefits, this illustrates exactly what that means in terms of the cash that is coming into the Social Security trust fund. The reforms, the changes that were made in 1983 went a long way towards fixing Social Security in the short and the median term; but for the long term, it just kicked the problem down the road. It did not make a permanent fix to it. It just postponed the day of reckoning, postponed the day of reckoning because it increased the taxes. And gradually we are in the process now of raising the retirement age. It made some other things.

So since the late 1980s and early 1990s, we have been collecting more in revenues from Social Security tax than we have been paying out in benefits. That means the Social Security trust fund has been reaping this windfall, if you will. It has had this extra money which we all know really is one arm of the Federal Government that is the Social Security trust fund taking the money and then turning around and loaning it to the Federal Government for part of the operations of the Federal Government. It is really paying part of the deficit, if you will, the operations of the rest of the government.

Now, the trust fund gets some IOUs and some Treasury bills in its name in there, and those are earning some interest. But here is what we have got right now. There are more benefits coming in. But as you can see here this black part up here which is the revenues exceeding the benefits being paid out, it takes a downturn here in just 3 years.

Now, that is the first critical date we need to focus on, the year 2008. It is in the year 2008 where the revenues start to decline and the excess revenues start to decline. And so the deficit, instead of masking more of the deficit each year, it will start masking less and less of the deficit each year.

So we will be doing more borrowing in order to cover the rest of the deficit.

(((Note the non-sequitur here. As of 2007, Social Security will run the largest surplus in its history, certainly a bigger surplus than in FY 2005, when Kolbe is giving his speech. But because the surplus will decrease in 2008, leaving more of the general fund's deficit exposed, Kolbe and Kline argue that we should tinker with Social Security. Perhaps a better idea would be to focus on bringing the rest of the federal budget into balance.

Here's an idea. At the time Kline and Kolbe were making their presentation, federal tax revenues were down more than $200 billion per year from when Bush took office. Maybe they should consider repealing some of those massive tax cuts.

Then, in the year 2018, you can see where these lines cross and the black turns to red. That is where the benefits being paid out exceed the revenues; the taxes that are actually being collected. So the Social Security trust fund has to go back to the Treasury, they have to go and cash in those IOUs they are holding, which means that the Federal Government has to give them cash and replace that borrowing with massive amounts of borrowing over here to cover the deficit.

At that point, they not only have the annual amounts they are covering for each month to cover the benefits, but they also are going to have to be covering the replacement of the IOUs. So the deficit really starts to balloon at that point. And within just a very few short years, up to 2018, the deficit being caused by the Social Security Trust Fund cashing in those IOUs is in the hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

We are going to be faced with a Titanic, a major, a simply major problem that we are going to have to confront at that point. How much do we borrow? How can we keep on borrowing those amounts of money, just to cover the shortfall in Social Security? (((At this point, Social Security is still just fine; it's consuming the surplus it's built up over decades, which Congress routinely stole instead of making the hard choices required to run the government. The problem isn't Social Security; it's the inability of our leaders in Washington --- Republicans and Democrats, but clearly Republicans for the past 5 years --- to lead responsibly))) And this is not saying anything about the shortfall in Medicare or the other kinds of entitlement programs that we have.

(((No, in fact no one, not Bush, Kline, Kolbe or anyone else mentioned Medicare much last year, despite the fact that the two Social Security and Medicare trustees who weren't in Bush's cabinet insisted that Medicare was a much more serious problem, exacerbated by Bush's 2003 'reform' legislation. You remember that bill, of course. It's the one which has prescription-dependent Americans on the brink of a healthcare crisis, the one which Kline might have stopped if he'd stood up for his principles. That one.)))

We are talking just about Social Security. It is going to be a massive shortfall that we are facing. That is why it behooves us to start thinking about this now.

Now, the third and last date that is currently projected is the year 2042. That is when the IOUs are gone. They have cashed in all the IOUs. Somehow we have managed to borrow the money from the Chinese or Japanese or the Germans, or whoever, to replace that borrowing, and we have managed to get the cash to pay the benefits. But in 2042, the IOUs are gone. There is nothing more for the trust fund to go out and use, except the money that is coming in each month.

At that point, assuming we have done nothing, as some people I have heard tonight over on this side suggest that we do, do absolutely nothing, if we do absolutely nothing, at that point the Social Security benefits would be cut by 27 percent.

Now, is there anybody listening this evening, and my colleague can answer this for himself, is there anybody that really thinks politically, with all the retirees we will have in the year 2042, we could realistically say, gee, your benefits just got cut 27 percent this month. Take it or leave it. That is it.

. . .

(((Okay, time for another chart. While Kolbe is indeed correct that retirees will see a reduction in benefits starting in 2042 if all goes as predicted, it's also important to note that the same folks who project that shortfall also predict that things will be worse under Bush's plan.

However, in fairness to Kolbe, his plan isn't identical to Bush's plan. I'll have more to say on that later.

Mr. KLINE: . . . To get back to the gentleman's opening comment about problem or crisis. Certainly it is a problem today, but clearly a crisis when you get into that big red area that says cash deficits. That is why it is so important we should have this debate today; that the American people understand that we are facing a problem which is going to turn into a crisis. We need to get this debate engaged and agree on a solution which will strengthen Social Security.

(Kline notes that there are many proposals, essentially states that "all options are on the table").

. . .

Mr. KOLBE: . . . there are really only three ways you can have a fix or do something to really reform Social Security.

One is increase the revenues. That is increase the amount of taxes you collect; whether you increase the amount of wages subject to the taxation, or whether you raise the rate of taxation, that is the rate of the Social Security tax we are paying today.

The second, of course, is to make some reductions in the benefits. You can make the reductions for future retirees, or whatever, what ever other retirees we are talking about. But you can reduce the benefits.

The third thing is to increase the rate of return on the investment. And that really gets us to the personal accounts, which I want to talk about in just a moment.

But before I do, I thought maybe it might be useful for us to talk a little bit about the town halls . . . .

I had two women who came up to me after the town hall was over and they both said they were Democrats. . . (and they were convinced, and they promised to tell two friends, who would tell two friends, and so on. Basically Kolbe is echoing Kline's call to open a discussion, all options on the table.)

Mr. KLINE: I thank the gentleman for yielding once again, and I just want to underscore the point the gentleman made that increasingly our constituents understand that something needs to be done.

This sort of anecdote has been put forth many times before, but just this last week when I was back in my district, I was visiting one of the high schools. . . (Overwhelmingly the students didn't think Social Security would be there for them when they retire). (((Funny thing about Kline's return trips to his district. Despite voicing his support for Bush's plan, he never held a town hall discussion about it, despite urgings from Bush to do so.)))

Mr. KOLBE: . . . Now, as I mentioned earlier, there are three things or variations on three things: raise taxes, decrease benefits, or increase the rate of return on investment that we have in Social Security. I happen to believe that we ought to do a little bit of all of those. If you are going to strengthen Social Security, you need to do a little bit of each of those things. (((I don't. Allowing people to divert a portion of their current Social Security taxes into private accounts is a sure-fire loser for the government, and a likely loser for individuals. So, no to private accounts. Notice that if we ignore private accounts but implement the rest of Kolbe's plan, the problem --- if problem there is --- goes away. But for some reason, Kline and Kolbe insist on tying these two relatively good ideas to the lousy idea of private accounts.)))

But the heart of that strengthening is increasing the rate of return on the investment we have, and that is why personal accounts are so important. Now, I have heard it said personal accounts do not fix it, and that is accurate. That is right. I have never said personal accounts fix it. Personal accounts are your link to the next generation because you are going to say to the next generation, look, you are going to have to pay just a little bit more to support this defined benefit, and you are going to get a little bit less.

And so the younger person is going to say, what is in it for me. So we can say there is a chance to have a greater return on investment through a personal account. Even though you are paying a little more taxes and getting a little less benefit from the defined benefit part of Social Security, you are going to have a part of it set aside, and it will grow as the country grows, grows as the economy grows, grows as the world economy grows; and that will yield a retirement that is better even with the reductions we are going to have to force. It is going to be better than what we have today. (((Of course, if I divert a portion of my Social Security taxes into the stock market, there's no telling whether I'll come out ahead, behind, or even. However, the logic to Kolbe's statement is inherently flawed, as Michael Kinsley patiently explains.)))

So the first principle we have to agree on is we do not do anything to change the benefits of people today who are retired or near retirement get. . . (Kline and Kolbe both beat this point into the ground.)

Mr. KOLBE: Mr. Speaker, the gentleman is exactly correct and on target. Obviously, when we talk about personal accounts, it has not always been that Democrats have opposed that. In fact, when President Clinton in the last 2 years of his term, second term in office, was talking about Social Security reform, talking about it honestly and openly, Democrats began to embrace the concept that maybe there ought to be a greater return on investment; maybe some of the money ought to go into a personal account.

Senator Reid, now the minority leader in the United States Senate said, "Most of us have no problem with taking a small amount of the Social Security proceeds and putting it into the private sector." He said that on Fox News in 1999. I think the Senator was correct about that. There are similar kinds of things that have been said by other leaders.

((('Similar', but not 'the same'. In fact, Clinton and Reid were both suggesting that the government might invest a portion of the Social Security surplus in the stock market, in the hopes of growing the fund a bit more quickly. This is completely different from allowing individuals to invest the money. Most notably, the Democrats' plan doesn't necessarily increase the national debt, since the government continues to collect payroll tax revenue.)))

The ranking Democrat on the Committee on Ways and Means said at a press conference at the same time, this was the same time the President was talking about Social Security reform, he said, "I am one Democrat who truly believes that Democrats will not benefit by doing nothing on Social Security." So he recognized the problem, and he believed we should do something.

. . .

There are a lot of single women who raised their children. I like to use the analogy of the 48-year-old single mother. She got her kids through school and college, worked herself to the bone, and now they are both over the age of 21, and she drops dead of a heart attack at the age of 48. What does Social Security provide? Zero. Not one dime, because her children are over 21. She is not married; there is no spouse. There is not one dime from Social Security.

Now, if a portion of what she had been paying in those taxes had been put into a personal account, she would have owned something. . . (etc.)

(((This is absolutely true. This is because Social Security was designed to be a safety net, not an insurance policy. Once you introduce the element of market risk, by allowing individuals to invest in the stock market, the safety net is less secure. Moreover, Kolbe's claim is misleading; Social Security does provide a death benefit to dependent children 18 or younger. Ironically, Bush just proposed cutting this benefit.)))

As I said, it is the link to the next generation because as I said, personal accounts do not fix the problem. Indeed, if we are going to take a carve-out as I think we should because to add it on is to say just a huge new tax on Social Security, a tax to be added as a burden on the people, if we are going to carve it out of the current amount being paid in retirement taxes, we are going to have in a sense a bigger problem, so we have to do something to make it all balance.

Guess what, you can do it, but you have to make some tough choices, and that is what nobody has been willing to do. Particularly as I listened over here, I do not hear anybody willing to make some of those tough choices. What do we do?

Well, the legislation we have introduced does a little bit of everything. We would make some modest reduction to the Consumer Price Index on which the annual cost-of-living adjustment is made, and that is justified by the superlative index which accounts for durable goods lasting longer today. Alan Greenspan has talked about it. It is a little complicated economic issue, but basically the Consumer Price Index today is a little bit out of whack with the reality of where the inflation rate is actually going.

In our bill, we would increase the amount of income subject to taxes, not increase the wage rate because we do not want to say to the person earning $25,000 we are going to increase your Social Security tax, too; you are going to have less take-home pay. But we are going to say to the person who currently makes over $100,000, you are going to pay more tax because we are going to increase the amount of wages subject to taxation. That is legislation that the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Boyd) and I have introduced. This is not necessarily the President's plan or any official plan on this side of the aisle, but I use it only to illustrate if you make some of these choices, you can fix some of these things. (((If we must tinker with Social Security, then this is the approach I support --- make the payroll tax apply to more of a person's income. However, with the current group running things in Washington, I don't want to give them one more dime of my money than I already do.)))

We would also accelerate the retirement age so we take out that 10-year gap from 65 to 67, we take that out so it goes to 67 a little faster. We do not change the retirement age; we just accelerate the speed at which it goes.

We would make some changes to the benefit structure for younger people, people with personal accounts, make some reduction in their benefits; and you can make Social Security solvent not for 10 years, not for 20 years, not for 40 years, and not even for 70 years, which is the only horizon that the Social Security Administration will look at. But economists have looked at ours and the CBO has looked at ours, and they say it goes as far as the eye can see as being solvent. So we can say to younger people, yes, you are going to pay a bit more in taxes, and, yes, you are going to get a little less benefit; but you are going to have retirement that nobody else has had up to this time. That is what personal accounts do, and that is why I think personal accounts are a critical part of any reform of Social Security.

It is not the be-all, it is not the end-all, it does not answer all of the problems; but it gives some confidence to younger people that there is going to be something in it for them when they get ready to retire. That is why I think the personal accounts are so very important.

. . .

The gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Kline) knows this. As Members of Congress, we have exactly what we are talking about doing for Social Security. It is called the Thrift Savings Plan, and all Federal employees have it.

(Kline and Kolbe both praise the Thrift Savings Plan to the rafters.)

Now, thanks to Messrs. Kline and Kolbe, this has already been an epic post, but I wanted to point out one final bit of dishonesty in their presentation. They conclude by talking about how great the Thrift Savings Plan for federal employees is, and they're right. It is a great plan. It is such a great plan, I've even considered trying to land a job in federal government just so I could sign on to it. But any privatization plan for Social Security, either Bush's or Kolbe's, is a far cry from Thrift.

The interested reader is encouraged to read Paul Krugman's 10 piece series against privatization:
  1. Inventing a Crisis
  2. Borrow, Speculate and Hope
  3. Stopping the Bum's Rush
  4. The Iceberg Cometh
  5. The British Evasion
  6. The Free Lunch Bunch
  7. Little Black Lies
  8. Many Unhappy Returns
  9. Gambling With Your Retirement
  10. Spearing the Beast

or, for those with a short attention span, check out ThinkProgress.

In the First Skirmish, Rowley Wins on Accountability

Today, three days after the Star Tribune published John Kline's letter in which he claims to have "voted for an increase of more than 21 percent in total veterans' funding," Kline's office still has not identified the votes he's talking about. No response to my three inquiries, nothing on his websites, nothing.

This doesn't prove that Kline's claim is false; it might very well be correct. He probably didn't pull the 21% figure out of thin air. However, the fact that Kline still hasn't managed to back up his claim indicates that he never expected to be challenged on this point.

Kline's support for veterans will be debated endlessly between now and November. For now, the important point to remember is that Coleen Rowley presented a detailed list of instances where Kline voted against veterans' interests, and Kline responded with incendiary rhetoric, ad hominem attacks, and thus far unsubstantiated claims. With the Republican "culture of corruption" as a principal issue in this year's election, it's interesting to note which campaign demonstrates accountability, and which one doesn't.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Kline Record on Veterans: Still No Proof

I called Kline's office again today, leaving my contact info with a living, breathing human being this time. I'm still waiting for a list of votes.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Kline Blasts Rowley, Insists He Supports Veterans

In response to a recent letter to the editor listing numerous votes John Kline has cast against the interests of veterans, Kline charges:

A Feb. 4 letter to the editor attempted to spin attention away from Coleen Rowley's campaign website posting of a doctored photo of me in a Nazi uniform. The letter was designed to give a false impression of my record on veterans' issues. It is interesting to note that the allegations were practically cut-and-pasted from Rowley's official campaign website.

In fact, I have repeatedly voted to increase funding for veterans' health care and benefits. In only three years in Congress, I have voted for an increase of more than 21 percent in total veterans' funding. I stood up to my party's leadership on several occasions to champion higher pay and benefits, and have received numerous letters from national veterans organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America and the American Legion thanking me for my principled votes on behalf of veterans.

Not only am I one of only three active-duty career military veterans serving in the House of Representatives, but my wife, Vicky, is also a career veteran (an Army nurse for 22 years) and my son, Dan, is currently serving in the Army flying Blackhawk helicopters in Iraq. To suggest that I would turn my back on them, or any other veteran, is absurd and just one more additional outrage in what has become a reckless campaign of distortion, innuendo and falsehoods.

The rhetoric in this response is disappointing. Just last week, Kline was faulting Rowley for failing to run an issue-oriented campaign, yet when Rowley issues a press release documenting 11 of Kline's congressional votes, Kline tries to spin it as a reckless, outrageous distortion. Kline further insists on being as incendiary as possible, bringing up an issue for which Rowley has publicly apologized and which has no relevance to the campaign or the issue at hand.

But the most disappointing thing is how poorly prepared Kline's response appears to be. The Rowley press release was issued on February 2nd. Assuming Kline penned his letter on the 6th (two days ago), that means his staffers had four days to prepare a response. If we also assume that Kline's claim of supporting "an increase of more than 21 percent in total veterans' funding" is based on anything more than hot air, then the Kline campaign should be able to release a similar list of roll call votes so the public, the media, and wonks like me can weigh the competing claims.

Where is the list of roll call votes on which Kline bases his claim? A check of his campaign and congressional web sites reveals nothing. I called Kline's campaign office in Burnsville to ask for the list of votes; I was referred to his district congressional office. When I called the district congressional office, I was referred to his Washington office. When I called his Washington office, I was referred to a staffer, and told that staffer was in a meeting. I left a voice mail explaining what I wanted and why, and left contact info. I'm still waiting for a reply.

I admit it seems unlikely that Kline wouldn't support veterans, but right now Rowley has the facts on her side. I'll hold off judgement until Kline gets his act together.

What is even more disappointing than Kline's disorganized response is that, apparently, no one in the traditional media is calling him on it. It's an election year, and this is an issue voters care about. Are any reporters going to check the facts and let us know who's right and who's wrong?

If you're so inclined, contact Star Tribune 'Reader Representative' Kate Parry and --- very politely --- request that the Strib follow up on this issue.