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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.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Marko Record

For the past 5+ weeks, there have been two candidates vying to be John Kline's DFL challenger: Coleen Rowley and Sharon Marko. Today Sharon Marko announced her decision to withdraw from the race.

Now, I make no secret about the fact that I support Coleen Rowley's bid to unseat Kline; any readers who aren't aware of this haven't read my disclaimer closely enough. So although I never would have said so before today, Sharon Marko is a hard-working Senator who has served the state well for 10 years, and I'm sure she would have continued to do so in Congress.

In fact, just last week she introduced a bill to protect vulnerable Minnesotans because Kline has failed to do so:

A new bill introduced by state Sen. Sharon Marko, DFL-Cottage Grove, would use almost a third of the state's tax relief fund to make up for $90 million in federal reductions to Medicaid-sponsored case management programs. Marko called the request a one-time appropriation to offset the effects of the Deficit Reduction Act, signed into law last month by President Bush.

"Without state help to address the loss of federal funds, counties will likely have to raise the funds through property taxes," Marko said. The alternative would mean laying off dozens of county caseworkers and sharply reducing programs for developmentally delayed adults and children, among other vulnerable groups.

To any of Marko's supporters who might be reading, I extend my condolences, and ask that you consider joining Coleen's campaign. While she may not have been your first choice, she is now our clear best hope to send Kline packing in November. Check out Coleen's site and sign up, or, if you're not yet ready to do that, feel free to drop me a line so we can discuss my reasons for choosing to support her.

Breaking: Marko has endorsed Rowley. Link when available.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Motion to Recommit

After writing the previous post, I got to thinking about John Kline's supposed dismissal of certain anti-veteran votes he's cast as "procedural votes, so that the language of the bill could be improved".

While this simply isn't true for one of the votes in question --- final passage of the FY 2006 budget --- the other two votes were motions to recommit certain legislation back to committee for amendment. I originally decided that Kline's characterization of these votes was technically true, but misleading. But then I realized that I don't know that much about how Congress operates, and I should really investigate further.

I've since decided that Kline's characterization is simply misleading.

One can read more than they would ever care to know about motions to recommit here, but the upshot is that in many instances, a motion to recommit is the only way for the minority party to introduce an amendment to legislation. From the House Rules Committee:

Even under an open rule, it is often difficult to offer an amendment to an appropriations bill. For example, an amendment cannot exceed the budget authority or outlays allocated to the committee under the Budget Act or it is subject to a point of order.

Both of the motions to reconsider which I mentioned earlier (corresponding to votes 47 and 221 of the first session of the 109th Congress) were made to appropriations bills. The motion to provide job training for veterans specified appropriation of "such sums as may be necessary", and thus would ordinarily be ruled out on a point of order.

The motion to expand TRICARE to all members of the National Guard and Reserve specified a budget shift of $182 million, and so might have been considered as an ordinary amendment. However, it was endorsed by "the Military Officers Association of America, by the National Guard Association of America, by the Enlisted Association of the National Guard, a unanimous vote last weekend by the Adjutants General of the 54 States and territories, the Reserve Officers Association, and the Fleet Reserve Association" according to Mississippi congressman Gene Taylor. I doubt these organizations would bother to endorse a procedural vote to improve the language of legislation.

Kline has refused to answer my questions about his policy positions, and now he's misleading his supporters about his anti-veteran votes. Not the actions of a man who's feeling confident about his chances for re-election.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

"Another Scurrilous, False and Hurtful Attack"

It appears that I struck a nerve.

On February 10, ThisWeek Eagan published a letter I wrote discussing three votes John Kline cast against the interests of veterans. Donald DeGenaro disagreed, insisting that Kline "has been a leader in fighting for expanded benefits and higher pay for our veterans", and citing (without specifying) Kline's votes to increase veterans' benefits by 21 percent. Since I had asked Kline's office numerous times for the votes backing up this claim, I wrote another letter pointing out Kline's lack of responsiveness.

Apparently this most recent letter hurt Rudy Kubista's feelings. He replied by insisting that I had authored "another scurrilous, false and hurtful attack" on Kline, and that my "unmitigated mendacity is hardly helpful toward exposing facts or the truth." Apparently it's now out of bounds to discuss a congressman's voting record, or one's own personal difficulties getting said congressman to answer a question.

Mr. Kubista did provide some value, however, by finally identifying two of Kline's pro-veteran votes:
  1. 456 in the first session of the 108th Congress, 2003.
  2. 604 in the first session of the 109th, 2005.

Kline did vote for each of these bills, and they both provided funding for veterans. Each bill has some interesting quirks. For example, the first bill never became law, because the House and Senate never reconciled their different versions of it. The second bill is that rare creature which was passed unanimously, and so we can safely assume that anyone from CD-02 would have voted the same way.

One interesting fact about the second bill is that it appropriates $53 million less than it would have if a Democrat were in Kline's seat. Kline voted against an amendment which would have increased veterans' benefits by $53 million while reducing funding for Base Realignment and Closure activities by $169 million. The amendment failed 213-214.

What's more interesting than the substantive information which has finally come out are DeGenaro's and Kubista's letters themselves. Both men clearly have unquestioning faith in Kline, as they both seem to believe that an adequate response to my letters is, effectively: "I called up Kline's office and he told me it's not true".

More telling about Kubista's letter is what Kline apparently told him about the votes I cited (47, 149, and 221 in the first session of the 109th Congress): that they "were merely procedural votes, so that the language of the bill could be improved".

Oh really?

Vote 47 was a procedural vote, to send H.R. 27 back to the Education and Welfare Committee with instructions to add an amendment which would provide extra job training assistance to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, since reservists and National Guard members deployed for extended periods may return to find their jobs have vanished. Similarly, vote 221 would have sent H.R. 1815 back to the Committee on Armed Services to add an amendment to expand TRICARE health insurance to reservist and National Guard members, since significant percentages lack it. Both of these "procedural votes", would have fundamentally altered legislation had they passed. And perhaps Kline really supports each of these actions, even though he voted against each motion to recommit. But in the case of expanding TRICARE at least, Kline's Committee on Armed Services never acted to bring the issue back to the floor.

Finally, vote 149 approved the FY 2006 budget, which Kline supported and which cut funding for veterans' health care by more than $13 billion. Not a "procedural vote" at all. Kline is disseminating misinformation, but allowing surrogates to do it, thus maintaining plausible deniability. Smart.

Kline has cast more than 2000 votes in Congress, so it's inevitable that some have supported veterans, just as it's inevitable that some haven't. But have veterans fared better, overall, with Kline in office than they would have otherwise? Rather than attempt an exhaustive analysis of Kline's voting record, I'll refer readers to the group Disabled American Veterans. On 8 votes important to that group over the past three years, Kline has voted in their interest exactly once, and that one vote was the 2003 vote cited by Mr. Kubista.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Pension Reform in Reverse

Not long ago, I wrote about the pension reform bills working their way through Congress, and the fact that John Kline spoke out in favor of the House version of the bill. At the time I figured that differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill would prevent any legislation from getting passed, and that may still be the case.

However, a conference committee has been set up to iron out the differences, and John Kline is on it. The big news, though, is that it turns out my lightly-researched layman's analysis of the two bills was way off base (I thought the House bill had one serious flaw but the Senate bill was pretty solid). As it turns out, both bills would actually make the pension crisis worse:

Then the political horse-trading began, with lawmakers, companies and lobbyists, representing everything from big Wall Street firms to tiny rural electric cooperatives, weighing in on the particulars of the Bush administration's blueprint.

In the end, lawmakers modified many of the proposed rules, allowing companies more time to cover pension shortfalls, to make more forgiving estimates about how much they will owe workers in the future, and even sometimes to assume that their workers will die younger than the rest of the population.


As a result, the bill now being completed in a House-Senate conference committee, rather than strengthening the pension system, would actually weaken it, according to a little-noticed analysis by the government's pension agency.

The agency'’s report projects that the House and Senate bills would lower corporate contributions to the already underfinanced pension system by $140 billion to $160 billion in the next three years.

How much do you want to bet that Kline and the Republican Congress will pass the bill anyway, then go out and proudly campaign on their accomplishment of "saving" America's pensions?

The End of "Flypaper"

When George Bush announced to the world that the U.S. was invading Iraq, he provided a very simple rationale:

The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.

This analysis made sense at the time, if you believed that Iraq actually possessed "weapons of mass murder". Of course, we learned in short order that they didn't, which completely obliterated this justification for the war. But Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, leader of the ground forces for the invasion of Iraq, made an ex post facto effort to revive it in July 2003, in what may have been the first instance of the administration's "if it's bad, it's really good" spin on the war:

This is what I would call a terrorist magnet, where America, being present here in Iraq, creates a target of opportunity, if you will. But this is exactly where we want to fight them. We want to fight them here. We prepared for them, and this will prevent the American people from having to go through their attacks back in the United States.

This notion that U.S. soldiers in Iraq were a "terrorist magnet" drawing potential attackers away from the U.S. came to be known as the Flypaper Theory, and has become a favorite of war hawks everywhere. The only problem is, it makes no sense. Prior to 9/11, the U.S. had soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia for years. If U.S. soldiers in the Middle East are an irresistible target for terrorists, why did 20 al Qaeda members infiltrate the U.S., spend months taking flying lessons and planning the attacks, then launch a coordinated assault on four targets, two of them civilian? U.S. government figures from 2005 show conclusively that terrorist attacks worldwide have multiplied since we invaded Iraq. By its very definition, terrorism is generally understood to mean unanticipated, devastating attacks on civilian targets, yet the Flypaper Theory assumes that al Qaeda has a conventional military mindset, which is demonstrably false.

However, Lieutenant General Sanchez naturally has a conventional military mindset, which might explain why he originated the theory. It might also explain why former Marine Colonel John Kline presented it to the Star Tribune in a June 28, 2004 interview (emphasis mine):

ST: Do you think the war in Iraq and the toppling of Saddam has made America safer?

Kline: Yes, I do. It's recognized by everybody, on both sides. . . . Everybody in the civilized world understands that Saddam Hussein is a really bad guy. He's a mass murderer, torturer, on a scale that's hard for us to envision. But more than that, if you're prosecuting a global war on terror, going after them where you can find them, well, there's a concentration now. Iraq is the focal point in the world in the war on terror. So we're able to hunt them there and concentrate, and that's a good thing. It does make us safer.

ST: Considering the costs to the United States - both in treasury and life - do you think it has been worth it?

Kline: Absolutely. You don't like to lose one life. But we were all going about our business on Sept. 11, 2001, and we were attacked. War was brought to us. Thousands died. It should have convinced all of us that we were at war, and that they were going to come after us. So you have to keep it in that context, of how we're going to fight this war, with the money we've spent and casualties we've suffered in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa and other places. It's much better than fighting it here.

Kline made this statement more than five months after chief U.S. investigator David Kay announced that not only had no "weapons of mass destruction" been found, but "I don't think they existed". So when Kline argues that the cost of the war in dollars and lives is still preferable to "fighting it here", he's clearly invoking the Flypaper Theory.

But now Kline himself is promoting data which disprove the Flypaper Theory, on his brand-spanking-new congressional website, which calls out a single issue of national importance: Terrorists in America!! Kline insists that, among other things, "Over 515 individuals linked to the September 11th investigation have been removed from the United States" and "212 individuals in the United States have been convicted or have pleaded guilty to terrorist charges".

I will devote greater focus to the particulars of Kline's site in future posts, but one thing is for certain: Kline's insistence that hundreds of terrorists have been apprehended in the U.S. over the past 4 years drives an unambiguous stake through the heart of the Flypaper Theory. We'll keep an eye out to see whether Kline attempts to resurrect it during the campaign.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Terrorists In America!!

One week ago today, John Kline formally announced his intention to run for a third term. And in the spirit of the new campaign, his congressional website got a facelift recently. Gone is the frankly embarrassing stuff, like the link under "Top Issues" to the apparently defunct Washington Waste Watchers group, and the "Question of the Week" which was last updated in September. The "Question of the Week" has been replaced by the "Trivia Question of the Week", and it appears Kline is planning to post his weekly "Kline's Corner" newsletters. This last change is a genuine improvement. I've made several attempts to sign up for the email version of the newsletter, but after receiving only one, I never received any others. Must be some kind of gremlin in their email database.

I have frequently complained about the fact that extracting information from Kline about his views on vital issues is like screaming in a vacuum --- the silence is deafening. So when I saw the new site, I immediately searched for position papers, bullet point summaries, anything at all about his views on the issues. After all, one would expect any serious candidate for Congress to publicize their stand on the issues, and since Kline is an independent conservative, it would be wrong simply to assume he holds the same views as, say, George Bush.

But looking under Kline's "Issues and Legislation" tab, we find: no legislation, a link to a listing of awards Kline has received, and . . .

Terrorists in America!!

Okay, I just made up the last part. There aren't any exclamation points at the end. But it is remarkable that, after giving his web site a complete update and overhaul, the only issue he wants to make sure his constituents are aware of is Terrorists in America.

Not the war in Iraq. Not Social Security. Not pension reform. Not Medicare. Not education or health care or ethics reform or port security or preventing disasters like Katrina or record-breaking budget deficits or providing decent care for our veterans returning from Iraq. The number one issue Kline wants you to think about as we head into the election season is Terrorists in America.

It goes without saying that I'll be analyzing this topic in greater depth in the days to come.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Independent John Kline Votes No on Port Security

Almost three weeks ago, John Kline expressed doubts about the wisdom of selling operational control of some U.S. ports to Dubai Ports World, a company owned by the royal family of the United Arab Emirates:

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.

Since it now appears that the DPW deal has been scuttled (and I'd like to emphasize, if I may, the word 'appears'), Republicans like Kline now seem content to return to their usual, criminally negligent practice of underfunding port security. In particular, this:

Moments ago, the House of Representatives narrowly defeated an amendment proposed by Rep. Martin Sabo (D-MN) that would have provided $1.25 billion in desperately needed funding for port security and disaster preparedness. The Sabo amendment included:

  • $300 million to enable U.S. customs agents to inspect high-risk containers at all 140 overseas ports that ship directly to the United States. Current funding only allows U.S. customs agents to operate at 43 of these ports.
  • $400 million to place radiation monitors at all U.S. ports of entry. Currently, less than half of U.S. ports have radiation monitors.
  • $300 million to provide backup emergency communications equipment for the Gulf Coast.

Yes, "independent" John Kline joined 209 Republicans and zero Democrats in defeating Sabo's amendment.

Coincidentally, another Minnesota Democrat, Jim Oberstar, co-authored an amendment which would have required automated screening of 100% of shipping containers entering the U.S. That amendment was derailed on procedural grounds, so Kline never got a chance to vote against it. So technically I shouldn't even mention it here. Oops.

(Via Political Animal)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A "Conservative Yet Independent" Republican

This past Monday, John Kline kicked off his campaign for a third term in Congress, describing himself as a "conservative yet independent" Republican.

No, really, that's what he said.

Now, claiming "independence" is a sly way for Kline to attempt to distance himself from George Bush and the Republican culture of corruption Kline has been marinating in for the past 3 years. But all independence really means is that Kline makes his own decisions about issues, which may very well be the case. However, sifting through Minnesota's major dailies published since Kline entered political life, it is remarkable to note how frequently he independently makes the same choices as George W. Bush:

  • During his 1998 and 2000 races for Congress, both of which he narrowly lost to Luther, Kline spoke approvingly of Grams' idea [for changing Social Security] but didn't endorse its specifics. In 1998, Kline said the final shape of Social Security "is going to look something like the proposal that Senator Grams has put on the table." In 2000, Kline said that he liked Grams' idea but that "Grams would move faster than I would prefer to do - so I have endorsed proposals such as that proposed by Governor Bush." (Star Tribune, August 5, 2002. What's interesting about this is that in 1998, Kline independently decided he liked the plan of incumbent senator Rod Grams. But in 2000, when Bush was running a strong campaign against Gore and Grams was headed to certain defeat against Mark Dayton, Kline independently decided he liked Bush's plan better.)
  • Kline argues that Iraq and the war on terrorism are the dominant issues. If Republicans are in control, he said, "there's a much better chance that the president's agenda would be advanced," especially in foreign policy. Republicans, Kline said, are more likely to lower taxes, cut spending, provide regulatory relief and streamline bureaucracy. (Pioneer Press, October 18, 2002. It seems a bit dishonest of Kline to ask voters to support him in order to advance Bush's agenda, since Kline is of course planning to decide issues independently of Bush's agenda.)
  • Countered Rep. John Kline, R-Lakeville, "I think that the president has done an incredible job, a remarkable job, in dealing with a major reorganization of government with homeland security, in attacking truly a global war on terror with great success, in putting together an economic package that I give a great deal of credit to for a rate of growth and recovery." (Pioneer Press, January 21, 2004. Kline can't say enough good things about Bush --- but don't be fooled into thinking he's a rubber stamp!)
  • A strong supporter of Bush administration policies on Iraq and the detention of suspected Al-Qaida fighters, Kline said U.S. guards in Guantanamo are "extremely sensitive to any notion that there is anything abusive or inhumane going on." (Star Tribune, July 13, 2005. Of course it's only a coincidence that Kline supports administration interrogation policies.)

On each of what many might consider the principal initiatives of the Bush administration, there was no supporter more loyal than John Kline. These are the war in Iraq, tax cuts, and Social Security privatization. Perhaps Kline did independently arrive on his position on these issues, and it just so happened to coincide perfectly with Bush's. But independent or not, Kline was as effective a rubber stamp as Bush could have hoped for.

And then there are the loyalty rankings. In 2003, Kline voted with his Republican colleagues 99% of the time, and with the Bush agenda 98% (Pioneer Press, October 18, 2004). In 2004, those numbers dropped a bit, to 99 and 94, respectively. I haven't been able to find these numbers for 2005; if anyone can point me to a URL, I'll post them.

Kline also voted with indicted former House majority leader Tom DeLay more than 97% of the time.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Kline is No Chickenhawk

Just to shake things up a little bit here, I'm actually going to write a post praising John Kline.

See, many folks opposed to the war in Iraq charge that the principal architects of the war are "chickenhawks" --- they preach endlessly about how vitally important it is that we send U.S. troops into harms' way in Iraq (2307 casualties and counting) but they weren't willing to put their own lives on the line when they had the chance.

George Bush. Dick Cheney. Paul Wolfowitz. Condoleeza Rice. Bill Frist. Karl Rove. Dennis Hastert. Tom DeLay. The list goes on and on.

But whatever else you might say about John Kline and his support for the war, he's certainly no chickenhawk. He is a 25-year Marine Corps veteran, having served in both Vietnam and Somalia. And he gained the trust of two presidents, carrying nuclear launch codes for both Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.

And it doesn't stop there. Kline's son, Major J. Daniel Kline, left for a 1-year tour of duty in Iraq last September. At the time Kline said (Star Tribune, September 18, 2005):

"You can also reassure yourself of the odds that are overwhelmingly in favor of your son or daughter coming back safe and healthy," said Kline of Lakeville. "But it doesn't mean you don't worry."

Kline, a retired Marine Corps colonel, has been a rock-solid supporter of the war and the fight against global terrorism, even before he was elected to Congress in 2002 to represent Minnesota's Second District, which incorporates the Twin Cities' south suburban region. He said that having a son en route to Iraq has not changed his convictions that Saddam Hussein represented a threat to the United States and needed to be removed and that the U.S. military should remain in Iraq until that country's economy, security and democracy are secure.

There can be no doubt that Kline sincerely believes that this is a war which must be fought. And he deserves credit for holding fast to his beliefs even when his son is in harms' way. It's just unfortunate those beliefs are so misguided.

Kline's Unyielding Support for the War in Iraq

No single issue defines John Kline as a candidate and a Congressman more than the war in Iraq. His views on Iraq run straight along the GOP party line. Consider this remarkable interview he did for the Star Tribune on June 28, 2004 (all ellipses in original).

ST: The basic idea about the Iraq war was to remove Saddam Hussein, establish democracy and go home. How do you think the United States is doing in meeting its goals?

Kline: The military operation in Iraq was more than just about removing Saddam Hussein and establishing democracy. It was to prosecute the larger global war on terror. I think the president made very clear after he talked to us after Sept. 11, 2001, that this was going to be a long war. . . . So in meeting the goal of prosecuting the enemy - and holding those nations that support, harbor and train terrorists equally responsible - I think we're doing pretty well. We have killed and captured an awful lot of people. Certainly it was the objective to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and certainly that's been done. Bringing democracy, we're making remarkable progress.

ST: Do we need to ratchet down our original expectations about establishing an Iraqi democracy?

Kline: I don't think so. That's exactly what we're going to establish is an Iraqi democracy. That's different very probably from an American democracy, or a British democracy. But the will of the people will be determined through elections. What form it is going to be, a republic, or a pure democracy, we don't know right now.

ST: If Iraqis choose a theocracy that imposes Islamic law in the country, could the United States live with that, or should it intercede to force a democratic government more in line with our own?

Kline: I think we could not live with the Taliban essentially moving from Afghanistan into Iraq. To me, that would be a failure. I don't think that's likely to happen. Iraq has been more secular than Afghanistan. . . . I just don't think it's likely that there would be a move to reestablish the Taliban.

ST: With a three-way power struggle between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds - with Saddam loyalists thrown in as a wild card - how do you rate the chances of avoiding civil war and achieving long-term stability in Iraq?

Kline: Actually, I rate the chances pretty high of avoiding a civil war. It's my understanding . . . that there really is a sense in Iraq of being Iraqi. Yes, there are the distinctions that you outlined. You would think the Kurds would be the most problematic, because they're geographically isolated largely in the north, and there's been an effort on their part for generations to have an independent Kurdistan. Having said that, though, they seem to be working together well now, and they understand that their future lies in a combined Iraq, with its enormous potential for wealth, oil, agriculture and water.

ST: Do you think the war in Iraq and the toppling of Saddam has made America safer?

Kline: Yes, I do. It's recognized by everybody, on both sides. . . . Everybody in the civilized world understands that Saddam Hussein is a really bad guy. He's a mass murderer, torturer, on a scale that's hard for us to envision. But more than that, if you're prosecuting a global war on terror, going after them where you can find them, well, there's a concentration now. Iraq is the focal point in the world in the war on terror. So we're able to hunt them there and concentrate, and that's a good thing. It does make us safer.

ST: Considering the costs to the United States - both in treasury and life - do you think it has been worth it?

Kline: Absolutely. You don't like to lose one life. But we were all going about our business on Sept. 11, 2001, and we were attacked. War was brought to us. Thousands died. It should have convinced all of us that we were at war, and that they were going to come after us. So you have to keep it in that context, of how we're going to fight this war, with the money we've spent and casualties we've suffered in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa and other places. It's much better than fighting it here.

ST: How long do you expect significant numbers of U.S. troops to be stationed in Iraq?

Kline: I would expect it would be years. Certainly we'll have a formal presence there until after we have the elected government, which won't be until 2005. I shudder to bring this up, but if you look at Bosnia and Kosovo, it's eight years or so we've been there now. We were 60 years in Japan and Germany, 50 years in South Korea. I'm not projecting it will be decades like that. But I would suspect it will be quite some time . . . a couple of years, at least.

Note how Kline twice implies an Iraq/al Qaeda connection, despite the fact that the 9/11 commission had conclusively dismissed any connection just days earlier. Note how he measures success in the war by the number of people captured or killed --- the majority of whom were innocent civilians. Note how he casually dismisses the possibility of a Shiite theocracy in Iraq. How he thinks there's a high probability that civil war will be avoided. The fallacy that just because "bad guys" are attacking our troops in Iraq, they won't try to attack elsewhere as well. The false choice of fighting terrorists in Iraq versus fighting them here. Pretty much the only thing he got right was the fact that the U.S. will be involved in Iraq for years --- at least if Kline and those who think like him continue to make the decisions.

As a bonus, check out this timeline of Kline's statements about the war:

  • The country should invade Iraq even if the international community objects to such plans, he added. "It's not a matter of how many allies we have or whether Middle Eastern countries want us to go in there or not," Kline said. "The point that I believe is absolutely true is that we're in danger. We here in America are in peril and we have to take the steps necessary to protect ourselves" (Pioneer Press, August 28, 2002).
  • Kline, who served in the Marines for 25 years, was saying he supported military action against Iraq long before it came to a vote in Congress . . . (Pioneer Press, October 24, 2002. Congress authorized military force against Iraq on October 10, 2002, thirteen months after the 9/11 attacks. Does Kline's support for military action against Iraq "long before" that extend back before 9/11?).
  • Kline had strong words for people who continue to object to the war but say they're behind the troops. "I fully understand that people have a right to protest," he said. "What makes me angry is when they speak out in protest and then turn around and say, 'But I support our troops.' No, that's duplicitous. I don't accept that" (Star Tribune, March 21, 2003).
  • "The overwhelming evidence with which the president was presented at that time -- as well as additional information that has since been discovered -- justifies this vote. The success of the military campaign and the progress we are making toward reconstruction of Iraq reflects why the vote was necessary and right" (Pioneer Press, October 10, 2003).
  • "One thing we came away with was that they really want to make sure we're in there for the long haul," he said. "Not that they want us to stay as an occupation force, but they want to make sure we're not going to turn around and walk out before things are in better shape than they are" (Star Tribune, October 14, 2003. Kline was reporting what he heard from the Iraqi people on a recent trip to Iraq).
  • "No, I do not think [Rumsfeld] should resign or be fired. We're engaged in a global war on terrorism with significant combat operations going on in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as military operations around the world. He's done a very good job trying to transform the military and provide leadership for these operations. It would send a terrible signal to our troops, undermining their confidence in leadership, and a terrible signal to our enemy, telling them that they can succeed in determining our steps over here. We need to not be reacting to them" (Star Tribune, May 9, 2004, after the Abu Ghraib abuses were revealed. Of course, firing Rumsfeld would be a reaction to criminal behavior on the part of our own troops, not a reaction to "our enemy").
  • "Actually, I rate the chances pretty high of avoiding a civil war" (Star Tribune, June 28, 2004).
  • "Success in Iraq is absolutely critical. . . . We need to stay until the job is done" (Pioneer Press, October 5, 2004).
  • Republican Rep. John Kline, a retired Marine colonel, said it would be "the worst kind of signal you could send" if the U.S. established a specific timetable for withdrawal (Star Tribune, June 19, 2005).
  • Kline said troop reductions are a near certainty in the coming year -- barring unforeseen circumstances. "If you're talking to me in eight or 10 months, and we're not starting to see ... actual withdrawals, I'll be shocked" (Star Tribune, Nov 24, 2005. The article cites current troop strength at 160,000, and cites a plan to reduce levels from 18 combat brigades to 15).

If Kline were to suddenly come out in favor of a phased and complete drawdown of troops, it would be the most stomach-wrenching kind of flip-flop. It simply won't happen. And although I give Kline full credit for holding firm on what he truly believes, it's too bad his beliefs are grounded almost completely in wrong ideas.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Kline Record: 2005 Year in Review

Well, it took me a fair bit longer than expected, but I finally completed cataloging Kline's Congressional Record for 2005. Here we go . . .

  • January: Led the Pledge of Allegiance and saluted the Lakeville High School Panther Band.
  • February: Reported at length about his recently completed trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, led debate on H. Con. Res. 36 to require colleges and universities to permit military recruiters on campus, and spoke in favor of a nonbinding resolution to allow the Department of Defense to continue to support the Boy Scouts.
  • March: Engaged in a lengthy discussion about Social Security reform and spoke honoring our troops at Iwo Jima.
  • April: Served as Speaker Pro Tem, introduced legislation in memory of those killed in the March 21, 2005 shootings at Red Lake, Minnesota, and held forth in a slightly briefer diatribe about Social Security.
  • May: Served as Speaker Pro Tem again, honored the Lakeville schools' "Challenge to Change" program, spoke on Iraq and Afghanistan, more Social Security, honored the Hosanna Church Junior High Youth Group for their efforts on behalf of Iraqi schoolchildren, Social Security again, Speaker Pro Tem again, spoke about the Defense Authorization Act, honored the Daughters of the American Revolution and led the Pledge of Allegiance. (whew!)
  • June: Gave speeches honoring Cheri Rezak, Sigma Chi fraternity, the first kindergarten in the U.S., and those who died in the failed 1980 attempt to liberate U.S. hostages from Iran. Also offered an amendment to the United Nations Reform Act which basically demanded that no U.S. soldier can ever be guilty of war crimes since U.S. soldiers don't commit them, and opposed an amendment to an education bill. And he led the Pledge of Allegiance again.
  • July: Spoke in favor of the Occupational Safety and Health Small Employer Access to Justice Act of 2005, made speeches honoring the Memorial Rifle Squad at Fort Snelling and the Red Wing Shoe Company, and served as Speaker Pro Tem once more.
  • August: (Congress did not convene in August, 2005).
  • September: Served as Speaker Pro Tem yet again, and made sure his HEROES Act got renewed.
  • October: Nothing.
  • November: Introduced legislation to name a Post Office after Al Quie, served as Speaker Pro Tem, and spoke in favor of restoring some tribal land to the Prairie Island Indian community.
  • December: Spoke in favor of the Pension Protection Act of 2005, which John Boehner introduced and Kline co-sponsored, which doesn't really protect pensions as well as it could.

And just to cap things off, Kline has no entries in the Congressional Record for January 2006 (the House only met for two days in January), and his only activity in February was to make a speech on February 28th honoring the Peace Corps.

And now you're up to date.

Pension Protection? Security? Transparency?

The last floor speech John Kline gave in 2005 was a brief one in support of legislation introduced by John Boehner, which Kline co-sponsored, the Pension Protection Act of 2005 (H.R. 2830). This bill ultimately passed the House by a somewhat bipartisan vote of 294-132 (one Republican voted against it; 70 Democrats supported it). What Kline said about it isn't nearly so interesting as the problem of defined-benefit pensions or the legislation itself, or why it's unlikely that real pension reform will be enacted any time soon.

The rest of this post goes into some pretty deep and only moderately informed wonkery. The upshot is that the Boehner bill is basically a good bill with one major flaw. Readers may prefer to move on to lighter fare.

America's defined-benefit pension plans are in crisis, with current unfunded liabilities estimated at around $600 billion. Compare that with the greatly-hyped future Social Security 'crisis' over which Republicans like Kline were in such a lather a year ago, which they claim will encounter a shortfall of $3.7 trillion over the next 75 years, starting around 2041. Given that the shortfall in pension funding is much more real and is actually affecting people right now, it's good to see that Congress finally made some effort to address it after their Social Security reform fizzled.

And as I said, in my nonprofessional opinion, Boehner's bill doesn't seem like a bad bill. It mandates the correct and necessary course of action, that businesses which have chronically underfunded their defined-benefit pension plans for years must now take concrete steps to close the gap to eliminate the current funding liability. It does this by increasing the per-worker amount businesses must pay in to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC, a federal insurance program established in 1974 to protect workers with defined-benefit pensions in the event their employer declares bankruptcy) if their pension plans are less than 80 percent funded, and providing tax incentives for employers to make additional contributions to their defined-benefit plans. And this is as it should be: employers promised these benefits to their employees, and they should provide the funding necessary to make sure those employees get their benefits.

There are a handful of objections to Boehner's plan. The AARP objects because the plan doesn't protect older workers when businesses choose to transition from a defined-benefit to a different benefit model, and because although the plan encourages businesses to provide financial advice to their employees, it weakens restrictions on which institutions can do the advising, raising the possibility of conflict of interest.

A few Democrats also pointed to the CBO estimate that Boehner's plan will actually hurt the bottom line for PBGC, increasing its projected funding shortfall by $9 billion over the next 10 years. But the real downside to the Boehner plan is that, under certain circumstances, it lets businesses off the hook.

In the event that a business with an underfunded pension plan goes bankrupt, the bill mandates that employee benefits paid out under the plan are reduced as well (look closely or you'll miss it: "restrict benefit payments and benefit accruals in underfunded plans"). In other words, although the bill makes an effort to bring defined-benefit pension plans up to full funding, if a business declares bankruptcy and dumps their plan on the PBGC, the employees still lose out. Some "pension protection".

The most startling part about this is that it doesn't need to be this way. The Senate has actually passed similar legislation, by a 97-2 margin (the two dissenters were both Senators from Michigan), which not only guarantees full pension benefits to workers (the only exception is that the Secretary of the Treasury can approve specific benefits reductions for businesses which request them), it does so at less cost to the PBGC.

The question is, why aren't Kline and Boehner championing the Senate legislation? This is purely speculation, but House Democrats make the reasonable argument that the real goal of Boehner's bill is to put an end to defined-benefit plans. By increasing the cost to businesses of maintaining a defined-benefit plan while making it easy to drop their plan in bankruptcy, this bill would have the natural consequence of moving businesses away from providing defined-benefit pensions and into more modern pension mechanisms, like 401ks. While it is probably true that defined-benefit pensions are an anachronism, and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with shifting to a defined-contribution system, Kline and Boehner aren't exactly looking out for the best interests of workers by encouraging business to shortchange them on the promises they've made. Especially if, as the AARP claims, the plan doesn't protect older workers when companies make a transition in their plans.

And of course, it's ironic that the same folks who are encouraging businesses to drop their defined-benefit pension plans are the ones who earlier in the year made such a concerted effort to fundamentally change our federal defined-benefit plan, Social Security.

Here's Kline's speech:

I would like to echo my colleague from Georgia's comments on this important subject. I, too, come from a district full of hardworking airline employees that have genuine concerns about the future of their pension plan. Throughout this process, I have worked to ensure that we address this issue in a way that does two critical things: One, make sure airlines can continue to afford participation in their defined benefits system; two, support the policy priorities of our committee, the Education and the Workforce Committee, in our efforts to protect employees by making sure the promises they have been made are backed with well-funded pension plans.

Madam Speaker, I commend the chairman for all his work on this bill and ask for his continued good efforts on behalf of the airline industry as we go forward.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Public Servce Announcement

Regardless of political party or affiliation, I urge all readers to attend their preferred political caucus coming up this Tuesday, March 7 at 7:00 PM. Those uncertain of their caucus location can look it up as follows:





That is all.

Responsiveness Update

Eleven days ago, I discussed John Kline's responsiveness to his constituents. The short version is, if he should ever claim to be responsive to the needs and concerns of his constituents, the correct response is to laugh in his face. Loudly.

Of all the issues I mentioned earlier, about which I have been trying to extract information from Kline for months in some cases, I have received an answer on only one (the DPW port deal), and only because the topic was so controversial Kline felt compelled to make a statement to the local paper.

I recently visited Kline's campaign and congressional offices in Minnesota, and asked them both for any literature, fact sheets, pamphlets, etc. they might have explaining Kline's views on various issues. The campaign office had nothing --- apparently they had just completed a big mailing in advance of party caucuses, and sent everything out. The congressional office similarly had nothing. They told me that I could leave specific questions with them and they would get back to me. That seems to be their stock answer.

Anyway, if anyone reading this has access, I have another question for Kline. According to Josh Marshall, the Republican party of Colorado had some kind of fund raiser/pep rally recently, which featured among others a USMC sergeant as either a speaker or campaign prop. The problem here is that overt participation in partisan politics is against the military code, particularly when in uniform. The Colorado GOP may be breaking the law as well, I'm not too sure.

So my question for Kline is: do you approve of this? Apart from any rule-breaking/lawbreaking, I would imagine the 25-year USMC veteran would take a dim view of active-duty military being used as campaign props. Or is it okay in this instance since the party doing the campaigning is Kline's party?

I'll call Kline's office myself on Monday, but I don't expect it to do much good.