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John Kline's Record

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

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

Thursday, August 31, 2006

What's Median, What's Average, and What's Real

[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

In last Friday's debate between Coleen, Jason Lewis, and John Kline, there was a great deal of discussion near the end about the state of the American economy. Lewis and Kline gave a positive view, while Coleen focused on the facts. When one crunches the numbers, it turns out that there is good news and bad news about the American economy: good news for the very wealthy, and bad news for nearly everyone else.

Discussions about economics are easily bogged down in details, so we'll focus on just two statistics: average income and median income. (Actually, we'll consider real average income and real median income, which factor out inflation).

Average income, or per capita income, is computed by taking the total income earned in the U.S. and dividing by the number of workers. When average income goes up, it could mean that most workers saw their incomes increase, or it could mean that a few very wealthy people got more while everyone else saw their income remain constant (or even drop a bit).

Median income is defined to be the midpoint of all incomes: 50% of American workers earn more than the median income, and 50% earn less. Median income can only increase in a given year if there more people rise above the previous median than fall below it. Conversely, if more fall below than rise above, median income goes down.
With this in mind, consider the Census Bureau report which came out on Tuesday. Specifically, on page 12 we find:

. . . the real median earnings of both men and women who worked full-time, year-round declined between 2004 and 2005. The median earnings of men declined 1.8 percent to $41,386. The median earnings of women declined 1.3 percent, to $31,858. This is the second consecutive year that men experienced a decline in earnings and the third consecutive year for women.

Median income for full time workers has decreased for two consecutive years, three consecutive years for women. That means that for the past 2-3 years, more people have seen their income fall below the existing median than rise above it (after adjusting for inflation). Needless to say, John Kline is unlikely to discuss real median wages during this campaign.

You're more likely to hear John Kline talk about average wages or per capita wages, because on the surface, the news there looks good. Again from the Census Bureau report:

Real per capita income rose by 1.5 percent for the overall population and by 2.1 percent for the non-Hispanic white population between 2004 and 2005.

Consider for a moment what these statistics mean. Real median income is down for the last 2-3 years, while average income is up. How is this possible? Since median income is down, then overall, incomes are dropping . So it's likely that average income is going up because the people who ARE gaining income are gaining quite a bit.

Put another way, an extra $100 million for Bill Gates or Paris Hilton can offset $500 losses for thousands of workers. The real story of the American economy is that the rich keep getting richer, while the middle class fall farther and farther behind. The Census Bureau report also estimates that there are 46.6 million people without health insurace, and 37 million people in poverty. This is the legacy of John Kline, George Bush and the GOP-led Congress.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Big Pharma Contributed to Medicare Ads

[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

All this month, we've run a series of pieces on the Medicare Bamboozle, a series which came about as a response to recent television ads paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce praising John Kline, Mark Kennedy and others for their support of the abysmal Medicare Part D legislation.

Only it turns out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wasn't the only organization footing the bill for these ads. The Associated Press reported yesterday that the pharmaceutical industry, the true beneficiaries of the Medicare bill, also contributed an unspecified amount to the ad campaign:

The pharmaceutical industry quietly footed the bill for at least part of a recent multimillion-dollar ad campaign praising lawmakers who support the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, according to political officials.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims credit for the ads, although a spokesman refused repeatedly to say whether it had received any funds from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

Given the truly unprecedented and broadly-based chicanery used to pass the bill in the first place, it's hardly surprising that Big Pharma is still quietly pumping money into promoting this pork-laden bill and the legislators who passed it.

If you're not familiar with the whole sordid tale of the Medicare Bamboozle, our treatment of it is available here:

  1. The Chamber of Commerce and its support for Kline and Kennedy.
  2. The worst piece of legislation ever enacted.
  3. The Republican culture of corruption in microcosm.
  4. John Kline's bold stand and subsequent crumbling.

Instead of a near-trillion dollar giveaway to drug companies masquerading as a prescription drug benefit, Coleen Rowley supports universal health care. She also supports comprehensive ethics reform, because an ethical Congress never would have passed this disaster of a bill in the first place.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

"If you're talking to me in eight or 10 months, and we're not starting to see actual withdrawals, I'll be shocked." - John Kline in the Star Tribune, November 24, 2005

The Blotter (not this Blotter, the ABC News Blotter) is reporting that the Marine Corps has now resorted to calling up troops from the Individual Ready Reserve in order to maintain required troop levels in Iraq. These are reservists who have not been drilling on a regular basis. Apparently the Army has been doing this on a regular basis, but this is the first such call-up for the Marines.

Since a callup of troops from the IRR is the exact opposite of withdrawals, I did a Google search to see whether Kline has expressed any shock over this development. I also searched his campaign and congressional web sites. Nothing.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Fiscal Reponsibility

[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

The New York Times has an absolutely fascinating story out this morning, about plans to privatize IRS collection enforcement:

Within two weeks, the I.R.S. will turn over data on 12,500 taxpayers — each of whom owes $25,000 or less in back taxes — to three collection agencies. Larger debtors will continue to be pursued by I.R.S. officers.

The move, an initiative of the Bush administration, represents the first step in a broader plan to outsource the collection of smaller tax debts to private companies over time. Although I.R.S. officials acknowledge that this will be much more expensive than doing it internally, they say that Congress has forced their hand by refusing to let them hire more revenue officers, who could pull in a lot of easy-to-collect money.

This is one of the problems with our current Congress --- it seems that no one can analyze the consequences of their actions more than one day into the future. In fact, it seems that few people even want to, other than crying about the theoretical Social Security crisis in an effort to distract attention from more pressing matters.

It's difficult to imagine a bigger waste of money than to hire private collection firms to do work that the IRS could do far more efficiently itself. How much more efficiently?

Privatizing government services is often promoted as a way to cut costs. But the government would probably net $1.1 billion from private debt collectors over 10 years, compared with the $87 billion that could be reaped if the agency hired more revenue officers, as Mr. Rossotti had recommended.

About 80 times more efficiently. First Congress passes unprecedented tax cuts which principally benefit the wealthy, and then they give away a substantial portion of the tax revenues to private companies.

It's time for a change.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Medicare Bamboozle: Part IV

[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

"The fear here is that there's no cost containment, there's not enough competition, this thing goes through the roof, and what happens is you break Medicare." - John Kline in 2003, on the Medicare bill

We have already examined how the Republican culture of corruption led to the passage of the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, and the reasons why one prominent conservative opined that it "may well be the worst piece of legislation ever enacted". We've also discussed why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is using this bill in an effort to put halos on John Kline and Mark Kennedy.

The final chapter in this saga is to take a closer look at John Kline's role. It is a little-known fact that Kline led an effort to get the GOP leadership to act deliberately on this bill, instead of ramming it through as they ultimately did. The problem is, when crunch time came, Kline toed the GOP line.

There is no question that John Kline always supported the stated goals of the Medicare bill. In a rare op-ed in the June 29, 2003 Pioneer Press, Kline wrote:

As the Medicare Trustees remind us year after year, the current Medicare system is not, in the long term, financially sound. According to the President's Fiscal Year 2004 Budget, the net present value shortfall for Medicare is $13.3 trillion and growing. Unless health care costs to the Medicare system can be controlled as the baby-boom generation retires, the combination of increasing costs and the growing number of beneficiaries will cause the program to collapse under its own weight.

As final passage of the bill grew nearer, Kline publicly expressed concerns about the cost. In a November 18, 2003 article in the Star Tribune, Kevin Diaz quotes Kline as saying:

"It's $400 billion, with a 'b,' '' Kline said. "The fear here is that there's no cost containment, there's not enough competition, this thing goes through the roof, and what happens is you break Medicare."

Perhaps due to concerns over cost, or perhaps for other reasons, on October 29 2003, freshman congressman John Kline led a group of 41 Republican legislators in publicly requesting that the GOP leadership follow House rules, and permit all House members, Republican and Democrat alike, the required 72 hours to review the final draft of the Medicare legislation before voting on it. From the Congressional Record:

The general public will evaluate not only what Congress does regarding Medicare and prescription drugs, but the way in which it does it. A bill proposing such substantive changes to the Medicare system and costing an estimated $400 billion over the next decade deserves the careful and thoughtful consideration of all Members.

Unfortunately, we already know the rest of the story. The bill was brought to the floor on November 21, the Rules Committee agreed to suspend the required 72-hour review period prior to voting on legislation, and John Kline voted in favor of suspending the rules. In a span of about 3 weeks, he went from leading the charge for "careful and thoughtful consideration" to following the orders of the GOP leadership.

A search of the four major Minnesota newspapers (Strib, Pioneer Press, Duluth News-Tribune and the St. Cloud Times) returns no evidence that Kline objected to House leadership holding the vote open for a record 2 hours, 51 minutes. It reveals no comment on the efforts of the GOP leadership to bribe Michigan congressman Nick Smith for his vote. And although Kline clearly had reservations about the bill's $400 billion price tag, there is no evidence that he expressed any objection or surprise over the revelations that the true White House estimate was at least 20% greater, or that the chief Medicare actuary had been threatened with firing if he informed Congress of the true cost.

Given the level of bullying and deception required to pass the Medicare bill, it's easy to conjecture that the bill might never have passed if John Kline had stood up to the GOP leadership and demanded of them what he thought was right. But he didn't. He needs to explain that to the thousands of seniors in our district who even now are sliding into Medicare's 'donut hole'.

This is part one of a four-part series on the Medicare Bill.  Make sure to read them all!
  1. The Chamber of Commerce and its support for Kline and Kennedy.
  2. The worst piece of legislation ever enacted.
  3. The Republican culture of corruption in microcosm.
  4. John Kline's bold stand and subsequent crumbling.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

It's Official: Bush's Warrantless Surveillance is Unconstitutional

[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

Today U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor confirmed what anyone with the most basic grasp of the law already knew, that George Bush's warrantless NSA surveillance of American citizens is unconstitutional:

"It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights," Taylor wrote in her 43-page opinion. ". . . There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all 'inherent powers' must derive from that Constitution."

Let's be clear on this. Coleen Rowley does not oppose surveillance of suspected terrorists in the name of national security. No one opposes that. But what should greatly concern us all is the Bush administration's apparent need to conduct such surveillance without the federally mandated oversight of the FISA court. Coleen is on record as far back as March in stating that the NSA program needs needs close scrutiny:

If the President is correct in claiming his program is both legal and vital to the larger "War on Terror," then prove it. Let's have a bipartisan, comprehensive review of the program. Let's do it behind closed doors, so as not to reveal any sensitive details that could compromise our national security.

Keeping America safe is an absolute priority. But that responsibility does not give the President license to break the law.

For his part, John Kline has said . . . um . . . hmm. Well, I could be missing something here, but I'm unable to find any public statement of any kind from John Kline on this program, which is of central focus in both the so-called 'war on terror' and in defining who we are as a nation.

The New York Times broke the news about this program 8 months ago, which is a long time for a member of Congress to remain silent on such an important issue. Perhaps he believes that if he avoids saying anything, he will avoid criticism.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More on Social Security

[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

We have already discussed recent Bush administration efforts to revive their deeply unpopular plan for privatizing Social Security. The Campaign for America's Future, a grassroots organization dedicated to "a new vision of an economy and a future that works for all of us", and which played a key role in defeating Social Security privatization in 2005, is gearing up for the fight.

They recently released an analysis of the impact of the 2006 elections on Social Security, along with reports for a small handful of legislators, describing their past support for privatization. Minnesota was the only state to have two House members mentioned: Mark Kennedy and John Kline.

The full report on Kline is available here (PDF). Here's the key paragraph:

Representative John Kline, R-MN, has been one of the staunchest supporters of privatizing Social Security. He is a cosponsor of HR 3304, the bill that would use the Social Security surplus to help fund private accounts. Kline aggressively and publicly advocates a risky scheme for privatizing Social Security. In response to a survey administered by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune newspaper, he responded “Strongly Agree” to a question that said, “American workers should be allowed to place a portion of their Social Security payroll deductions into private retirement accounts if they wish.” As his record clearly demonstrates, Kline wants to put Americans’ retirement at risk, and as a member of the U.S. Congress, he’s currently in the position to do so.

All but one of the Democrats currently in the House of Representatives oppose Social Security privatization, as does Coleen Rowley. And Republican proponents of the plan will believe they have a public mandate to implement privatization if they are returned to Congress.

One more reason to vote for change.


[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

The Washington Post is reporting that John Kline will not be sued for statements he made about last year's massacre of Iraqi civilians in Haditha, Iraq.

Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, who is alleged to have participated in the killings, filed suit against Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha for libel, insisting that public statements Murtha had made about events in Haditha prejudged his case. Attorneys had threatened to add John Kline to the suit for making similar statements, but Kline has apologized, saying ". . . as a Marine officer, I would never want to publicly insinuate, implicitly or explicitly, that I have prejudged what took place that day on the battlefield or afterwards."

We take Congressman Kline's words at face value. Certainly, we would not want to accuse him of publicly disparaging our troops fighting in Iraq. But the fact remains that Kline made some fairly conclusive statements about Haditha, and he isn't taking responsibility for them.

According the the Post, Kline effectively blames the media for his troubles:

Kline wrote that news outlets used incomplete statements that gave the false impression that he had concluded the Marines broke the law.

Yet there are several reasonably complete statements from various media outlets which show that Kline himself gave the impression he had concluded the Marines broke the law. Statements like:

Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who is a retired Marine colonel, said that the allegations indicated that "this was not an accident. This was direct fire by marines at civilians." He added, "This was not an immediate response to an attack. This would be an atrocity." - New York Times, May 26, 2006


"There is no question that the Marines involved, those doing the shooting, they were busy in lying about it and covering it up — there is no question about it," Kline said. - Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2006


Representative John Kline, a Republican and a former marine, said: "This was a small number of marines who fired directly on civilians and killed them. This is going to be an ugly story … There is no doubt that the marines allegedly involved in doing this lied about it. They certainly tried to cover it up." - The Sunday Herald (Scotland), June 4, 2006

Everyone makes mistakes, so it's understandable that John Kline may have made stronger statements about Haditha than he intended. But by issuing an 'apology' in which he blames the media for his statements, he falls short of demonstrating the kind of responsibility and accountability we need and expect from our public officials.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Two Approaches to Fighting Terrorism

[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

For nearly five years, George Bush and the Republican Congress have been telling us that only they can keep America safe, because only they have the will protect us from the terrorists. The arrest of 24 suspected terrorists in Great Britain on Thursday shows how the George Bush/John Kline approach is exactly wrong.

Let's start with an observation in today's New York Times editorial:

The most frightening thing about the foiled plot to use liquid explosives to blow up airplanes over the Atlantic is that both the government and the aviation industry have been aware of the liquid bomb threat for years but have done little to prepare for it.

This is a small detail which got lost in the initial media frenzy surrounding the arrests, but it's dead on. Liquid explosives were successfully detonated on a commercial airliner as long ago as 1994, but George Bush and John Kline haven't done much to prevent future attacks of this sort. The 9/11 commission gave Bush and the GOP Congress a C in this area on last fall's report card, and John Kline actually voted to limit the number of airline baggage screeners.

Beyond the Republican-led government's failures to adequately address this specific type of attack, there is also the issue noted here earlier, that George Bush and John Kline's preferred method of fighting terrorism --- keeping U.S. troops trapped in the middle of Iraq's civil war --- has actually increased the terrorist threat.

So what was the key to foiling this particular terrorist plot? The Times continues:

What saved everyone was apparently superb intelligence work by the British, who apprehended the terrorists before they could carry out their scheme. It is unlikely that any of the scanning machines or screening personnel deployed at airports would have detected the potentially destructive materials before they could be carried aboard.

This is something Coleen Rowley knows about, as a 24-year FBI veteran. By its very nature, terrorism is carried out by individuals, not states. So our counter-terrorism strategy must be primarily a law enforcement strategy, not a military one.

Another great myth of the Bush administration is that terrorist surveillance cannot be successfully conducted with judicial oversight. For literally years, George Bush has authorized NSA surveillance of innocent Americans, and attempted to create "a database of every call ever made" within our borders. To critics who charge that these programs violate the 1978 FISA law, Bush and his allies have responded that the surveillance is necessary to track down an neutralize terrorists.

This argument is absurd on its face. The FISA law doesn't prevent the government from monitoring terrorist suspects; rather, it subjects such monitoring to judicial review, to prevent the government from monitoring, say, political enemies (see: cointelpro).

But for proof, one need look no further than last Thursday's arrests. While the suspects were arrested in Britain, British authorities received a great deal of information from the FBI, who were monitoring calls between Britain and the United States. And what do you know:

The investigation was so large, officials said, that it brought a significant surge in warrants for searches and surveillance from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret panel that oversees most clandestine surveillance.

One official estimated that scores of secret U.S. warrants were dedicated solely to the London plot.

So the FBI helped the Brits nab these guys, and they did it using the same FISA warrant process which George Bush has blatantly --- and almost certainly illegally --- ignored for five years. And although the FISA law doesn't extend to Great Britain, Glenn Greenwald reports that the Brits have a similar requirement to obtain a warrant for surveillance, one which was presumably followed.

George Bush and John Kline will tell you that we need to 'stay the course' in Iraq in order to defeat the terrorists, when it's abundantly clear that approach is accomplishing the precise opposite. And George Bush will tell you it's necessary to give up your civil liberties in order to be safe (astonishingly, it appears that John Kline has been silent on this point for nearly 8 months now, and just as astonishingly, the media haven't pressed him on it), even though the FISA warrant process --- the same process Coleen Rowley recommended for dealing with Zacarias Moussaoui in August 2001 --- proved to be no barrier in this case.

(Update: Robert Kuttner provides an insightful and more detailed analysis of exactly how incompetent Bush's approach to the 'War on Terror' has been)

Friday, August 11, 2006


[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

Today, President Bush made the following statement:

"The easy fix is to say 'Let somebody else deal with it.' This administration is going to continue trying to work with Congress to deal with these issues."

It's encouraging to see George Bush so determined to address the difficult challenges facing our country before he leaves office.

Can you guess which issue he was talking about? Was it:

It's a trick question. The answer, of course, is none of these. For some reason, with less than three months until the election, George Bush is making a renewed effort to push his deeply unpopular Social Security privatization plan --- a plan which John Kline championed, with little success, in the House of Representatives last year.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

"It does makes us safer." - John Kline in a June 28, 2004 interview with Kevin Diaz of the Star Tribune, talking about the U.S. presence in Iraq.

Madrid. London. And now it seems, we came within a hair's breadth of "mass murder" over the Atlantic:

British authorities said the threat involved terrorists who aimed to smuggle liquid explosive material aboard airplanes in hand baggage, including timers and detonators that could be assembled in flight. British Home Secretary John Reid said the operation was aimed at bringing down "a number of aircraft" -- reportedly at least ten -- "through mid-flight explosions, causing a considerable loss of life."

The State Department recently reported that the number of terrorist attacks worldwide increased nearly fourfold in 2005. Thankfully, none of these attacks occurred on American soil, but that seems to be mostly coincidence. John Kline himself has posted a feature on his congressional web site titled 'Terrorists in America'. And there were certainly Americans on the transatlantic flights which this most recent terrorist effort was targeting.

Taking all of this into consideration, together with Republican Senator Chuck Hagel's recent statement that continued U.S. involvement in Iraq is "ruining our United States Army," I would like to ask John Kline exactly how keeping our soldiers in Iraq is making Americans safer. How is it making anyone safer?

Please phrase your answer in the form of an answer, not a wild-eyed distortion about something one of our staffers did months before joining the campaign.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Stay the Course?

[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

I'd like to spend a bit of time talking about the campaign's latest press release. Our campaign has noticed that while John Kline was very outspoken about the U.S. occupation of Iraq during the first three years, he's been relatively quiet on the subject lately. Is this because the congressman is going soft in his previously rock-ribbed support for the war? The election is less than three months away, and the voters deserve to know.

For the record, Coleen opposed going into Iraq from the beginning, citing her belief that doing so would be a shot in the arm for al-Qaeda recruitment, and pose a greater threat to our security over the long term. She has held to that view, and is now an outspoken supporter of responsible redeployment along with Pennsylvania Democrat and 37-year Marine Corps veteran John Murtha.

According to a October 24, 2002 Pioneer Press article by Rachel Stassen-Berger, John Kline supported war in Iraq "long before it came to a vote in Congress". Perhaps he still does. But his relative silence on the subject has got us wondering, so we're asking him for a clear statement of his position.

And since it seems John Kline doesn't want to talk to us, we're asking the media to do what they can to get an answer.

Here are a few of Kline's statements on Iraq from late last year:

"What I would expect to happen is that they [Iraqi security forces] will get better and better and stronger and stronger, and by this time next year, I'll be very surprised if we don't have significantly fewer U.S. forces in Iraq" - Star Tribune, September 18, 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, November 24, 2005 --- 8.5 months ago

"President Bush's speech reemphasizes that there is a clear plan for victory in Iraq. It is uplifting to see the courage of the Iraqi security forces as they take on more and more responsibility." - Star Tribune, December 1, 2005, shortly after Kline returned from a visit to Iraq

But then this past April, we have:

Gutknecht and Kline, meanwhile, who have been consistent supporters of the war, had little to say last week about Iraq and the election.

Kline declined to comment. His spokesman Troy Young said: "We're not going to continuously air our political election views through the press. That's not the way we operate. That's not the way any incumbent operates." - Star Tribune, April 28, 2006

Now perhaps it's unreasonable for us to expect that John Kline will, as the incumbent, talk about his positions on issues like the situation in Iraq. But oddly enough, first district congressman Gil Gutknecht, who like Kline is an incumbent as well as a long-time supporter of the U.S. presence in Iraq, not only spoke out recently, but announced that he had changed his mind:

Rep. Gil Gutknecht (Minn.), once a strong supporter of the war, returned from Iraq this week declaring that conditions in Baghdad were far worse "than we'd been led to believe" and urging that troop withdrawals begin immediately.

If Gutknecht can a) Speak up about Iraq and b) Change his mind, why can't Kline? Especially when our top General in the Middle East, John Abizaid, and Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have this to say about Bush's "clear plan for victory in Iraq":

"The sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it," Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. military operations in the Middle East, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "If not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war."

. . .

"We do have the possibility of that devolving to a civil war, but that does not have to be a fact," said Pace. ". . . We need the Iraqi people to seize this moment."

This is where George Bush and John Kline's 'stay the course' strategy has brought us. After 3.5 years of fighting, $300 billion spent, 2600 U.S. soldiers and untold thousands of Iraqis dead, Iraq is further from Democracy than it has been at any time since the fall of Saddam.

Has it made us safer? There are a lot of ways to answer that question, but if we measure the safety of our country by the readiness of our military, the answer is a resounding "No". Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, himself a Vietnam veteran, recently declared:

"We're ruining our United States Army. We are decimating our army. We can't continue with the tempo and the commitment that we are on right now."

John Kline wanted this war, and he has supported the Bush administration in its conduct of the war every step along the way, even praising Donald Rumsfeld as having done "a very good job" in the wake of the Abu Ghraib abuses. So the very simple question is, does he still support the Bush 'stay the course' strategy?

Coleen believes emphatically that 'stay the course' is no strategy at all; it's simply a mantra for the Bush administration to repeat over and over until 2009, when someone else will move into the Oval Office and be forced to clean up the mess.

If John Kline is confident in his position, he shouldn't hesitate to share it with the voters.

The Medicare Bamboozle: Part III

[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

We've discussed the recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce ads praising John Kline and Mark Kennedy for their support of the Medicare prescription drug program, and scratched the surface of what truly awful legislation it is. One might well ask, how did Congress ever pass such a pork-laden giveaway for the pharmaceutical industry into law?

The answer lies in the Republican culture of corruption. Coleen is running on a platform of comprehensive ethics reform, which most everyone says they support. But in order to truly understand how official corruption in Washington affects our everyday lives, it helps to examine a real-life example in detail.

You couldn't ask for a better example than the Medicare Part D legislation.

Our story begins in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, November 22, 2003. 3:00 AM, to be exact. That's when Doc Hastings, R-WA, who was acting as Speaker Pro Tem of the U.S. House of Representatives, declared that debate on the prescription drug bill was over, and the time had come to vote. This was less than 26 hours after the bill had been released from the conference committee, much to the consternation of many Democrats, including Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, who complained earlier in the proceedings (from the Congressional Record):

. . . under House rules, Mr. Speaker, all Members of this House, Democrats and Republicans, are supposed to have 3 days, 3 days to review any conference report so they can actually read what is in it so that they will know what, in fact, that they are voting on. It is obvious, as has been the case so many times over and over, that the Republican majority is choosing to ignore the rules of this House . . .

This was to no avail. At 3:00 AM on Saturday, November 22, Doc Hastings declared that "Members will have 15 minutes to record their votes." A November 23 Washington Post article describes what ensued:

The 2-hour-and-51-minute ordeal -- more than double the previous record -- saw Democrats savoring the possibility of their biggest victory of the Bush years -- an apparent 216 to 218 rejection of the $400 billion plan -- for almost an hour. But in that final hour, the president, jet-lagged from his flight home from Britain, phoned recalcitrant Republicans from the White House, and his secretary of health and human services, defying custom, jawboned members on the floor.

The full Post article is worth reading, but the full extent of Republican misdeeds wouldn't be known until weeks later, when Nick Smith of Michigan admitted that a member of the GOP leadership had effectively tried to bribe him into voting yes, and when that didn't work, resorted to threats instead. Smith later tried to recant, but the damage had already been done:

What little credibility Smith's retraction had back then was undone by the emergence of two pieces of evidence. The first was a tape-recording of a pre-recantation radio interview in which Smith very clearly described a "$100,000-plus" contribution to his son's campaign for Congress in exchange for his "yea" vote on the Medicare prescription bill. (Smith declined.) That meets the statutory definition of a bribe under United States Code, Title 18, Section 201, "Bribery of public officials and witnesses." The second piece of evidence was a story in the Washington Post that produced two witnesses—one of whom, Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn., went on the record—who said they distinctly heard Smith say the bribe was offered by someone in the House leadership.

Okay, so far we have the Republican leadership breaking House rules, holding the vote open for nearly three hours (a record) to give time for President Bush and the GOP leaders to pressure reluctant Republicans, and an actual felony committed on the floor of Congress.

But wait, there's more! Even this staggering amount of corruption isn't sufficient to pass a bill this bad! Since Republican lawmakers still like to lay claim to the title "conservative", they need to show concern about the cost of something like the Medicare bill. And well they should have been concerned; official White House estimates put the cost at $400 billion over 10 years. That's a lot of money.

But what's more astounding is that the White House knew the $400 billion figure understated the true cost by more than 20 percent (emphasis mine):

The chief Medicare actuary, Richard S. Foster, told Congress on Wednesday that last June he provided the White House with data indicating that prescription drug legislation would cost 25 percent to 50 percent more than the Bush administration's public estimates. That information did not make its way to Congress for six more months.

. . .

In testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Foster said he had struggled to preserve the independence and integrity of his office. It was his first public appearance since a furor erupted over his assertions that Mr. Scully threatened to fire him if he disclosed his cost estimates to Congress during debate on the Medicare bill.

The "Mr. Scully" referenced above is Thomas Scully, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who:

. . . received a waiver from ethics laws, thereby allowing him to represent the Bush administration in discussions about the new drug bill while negotiating employment with three lobbying firms and two investment firms that had major stakes in the legislation.

Note that the Bush administration explicitly acknowledged that Scully was engaging in unethical behavior by granting him an "ethics waiver". I guess once Scully had the waiver, he figured there was nothing to stop him from demanding that Foster choose between lying to Congress and losing his job.

But let's not focus solely on Mr. Scully and the transgressions of the Bush administration; lots of the people involved in drafting the Medicare bill jumped on the Big Pharma gravy train shortly after the legislation passed, strongly indicating that the interests of the American people were not foremost in their minds while writing the bill.

This is the problem in a nutshell. The Medicare prescription drug benefit was written by people who wanted to shove as much taxpayer money as possible into the gaping maw of Big Pharma, so that they could be rewarded with cushy jobs at lobbying firms, working with their former colleagues in Congress to shove even more taxpayer money into the gaping maw of Big Pharma. There are at least two known instances of threats or bribes in this story, including one member of Congress attempting to bribe another on the House floor. Rules were ignored, ethics were ignored, laws were ignored.

And the ones paying the price are the seniors falling into the 'donut hole' --- our parents and grandparents --- as well as the American taxpayer who has to subsidize exorbitantly priced drugs because a corrupt Congress explicitly prohibited Medicare from using market forces to bargain for lower costs.

This is just one example of what the culture of corruption has brought us. It is far from the only one. Fixing this problem will be at the top of Coleen Rowley's agenda when she goes to Congress.

And John Kline? We'll look at the role he played in the Medicare debacle in our final post on the topic.

This is part one of a four-part series on the Medicare Bill.  Make sure to read them all!
  1. The Chamber of Commerce and its support for Kline and Kennedy.
  2. The worst piece of legislation ever enacted.
  3. The Republican culture of corruption in microcosm.
  4. John Kline's bold stand and subsequent crumbling.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Medicare Bamboozle: Part II

[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

An earlier post discussed recent TV ads which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce purchased praising John Kline and Mark Kennedy for their support of Medicare Part D and its prescription drug provisions. The chief goal of the ads was to keep two of the Chamber's most reliable supporters in Congress, but a secondary goal was to convince voters that Medicare's prescription drug program is a good thing for consumers.

It's not. In fact, it may very well be the worst piece of legislation ever enacted. And that's not just my opinion.

The major provision of the prescription drug program which is causing problems for many seniors right now is the so-called 'donut hole'. In order to keep the cost of the program merely outrageous instead of obscene, the coverage is set up to pay 75% of drug costs until you've purchased $2250 worth of prescriptions. After that, you're on your own for the next $2850 (95% of costs beyond that are covered). Estimates on the number of seniors who will fall into the donut hole vary, but everyone agrees it will be more than 3 million:

Advocacy groups and some independent health analysts have warned of serious health consequences for older and disabled Americans living on low or moderate fixed incomes. Their resources, though minimal, often are too much to qualify for extra help. They face difficult choices, advocates fear: buy medicines or food and other necessities?

The donut hole problem is exacerbated by another horrendous provision of the bill: Medicare is explicitly prohibited from negotiating with drug companies for lower prices. By one measure, this provision has led to a 48% increase in drug costs, pushing more seniors into the donut hole sooner.

But wait, there's more. Since Medicare covers a substantial portion of drug costs --- at least until the donut hole kicks in --- the American taxpayer is also paying higher prices. And it doesn't end there. In today's global economy, drug companies sell their products all over the world, in countries which already have some form of universal health care. The governments in these countries do negotiate lower prices with the drug companies, which make up the difference by raising prices in the U.S. So in effect, the U.S. taxpayer is subsidizing health care in Canada, Great Britain and Japan. So much for John Kline's claim to be a friend of the taxpayer.

Indeed, the plan is such a blatant giveaway to big pharma, even conservatives are disgusted with it. Bedrock conservative Bruce Bartlett, writing for the Cato Institute, points out yet another flaw in the plan:

. . . the drug program would reimburse corporations for the drug benefits they were already providing to their retirees. The federal government would send huge checks to some of the largest corporations in the United States for the costs that they were already contractually obligated to pay. The final legislation provides a 28 percent tax-free subsidy that is expected to average $660 per retiree per year.

The numbers are huge. After passage of the legislation, the Wall Street Journal reported that General Motors anticipated receiving $4 billion to cover its prescription drug costs. Other recipients included Verizon ($1.3 billion), BellSouth ($572 million), Delphi ($500 million), U.S. Steel ($450 million), American Airlines ($415 million), John Deere ($400 million), United Airlines ($280 million), and Alcoa ($190 million).

. . . I believe that the Medicare drug bill may well be the worst piece of legislation ever enacted. That it was enacted by a president and Congress controlled by my party is a source of great distress to me. It will cost vast sums the nation cannot afford, even if its initial budgetary projections prove to be accurate, which is highly doubtful.

And it doesn't end there. Readers who want a more comprehensive accounting of the problems with this program can read the analysis Consumer's Union did just before the bill was passed (PDF).

It's clear that this bill was written for the good of the drug companies who contribute so generously and reliably to Republican candidates (John Kline has received nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical and health products industries). This bill is a perfect microcosm of the Republican culture of corruption in action.

And that's not taking into account the remarkable stunts the Republicans played to get the bill passed in the first place, which we'll discuss in the next post.

This is part one of a four-part series on the Medicare Bill.  Make sure to read them all!
  1. The Chamber of Commerce and its support for Kline and Kennedy.
  2. The worst piece of legislation ever enacted.
  3. The Republican culture of corruption in microcosm.
  4. John Kline's bold stand and subsequent crumbling.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Responsible Redeployment Now

[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

In a June 28, 2004 interview with the Star Tribune writer Kevin Diaz, John Kline said:

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 . . .

This past Thursday, Gen. John Abizaid, our top General in the Middle East, and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Star Tribune, August 4, 2006):

"I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war," said Gen. John Abizaid, chief of Central Command and the top general in the Middle East.

Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed with the appraisal. "I believe that we do have the possibility of that devolving to a civil war, but that does not have to be a fact," he said.

These generals are responsible for guiding our troops in Iraq. But many more detached observers believe that full-blown civil war has already broken out in Iraq. And at least two of those observers make compelling arguments for a responsible redeployment of our troops.

Tom Friedman, long-time Middle East commentator for the New York Times, like John Kline, supported Bush's decision to invade and occupy Iraq. And for the past 3.5 years, he's remained cautiously optimistic about the outcome. Yesterday however, he dropped his optimism (subscription required):

It is now obvious that we are not midwifing democracy in Iraq. We are baby-sitting a civil war.

When our top commander in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid, tells a Senate Committee, as he did yesterday, that "the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it," it means that three years of efforts to democratize Iraq are not working. That means "staying the course" is pointless, and it’s time to start thinking about Plan B — how we might disengage with the least damage possible...

...Yes, the best way to contain Iran would have been to produce a real Shiite-led democracy in Iraq, exposing the phony one in Tehran. But second best is leaving Iraq. Because the worst option — the one Iran loves — is for us to stay in Iraq, bleeding, and in easy range to be hit by Iran if we strike its nukes.

Former U.S. Ambassador Peter Galbraith notes that, contrary to Kline's 2004 observation that the factions in Iraq are "working together well now," the Kurds have isolated themselves from the sectarian fighting between the Shi'ites and Sunnis. He further points out that the more immediate threat of extending the occupation of Iraq comes not from Iran, but from al-Qaeda:

Seeing as we cannot maintain the peace in Iraq, we have but one overriding interest there today — to keep Al Qaeda from creating a base from which it can plot attacks on the United States. Thus we need to have troops nearby prepared to re-engage in case the Sunni Arabs prove unable to provide for their own security against the foreign jihadists.

The situation in Iraq is bad and getting worse, and there are no easy answers. Thanks to the adminstration's insistence on fixing the facts around a predetermined course of invasion, their refusal to send adequate troop strength, and their failure to secure the postwar peace, there is no good solution to the problem of Iraq.

There will be no good solutions as long as politicians like John Kline stubbornly insist on staying this misguided and deadly course.

The Medicare Bamboozle: Part I

[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

A couple of nights ago, I saw a campaign ad for John Kline, which discussed in glowing terms Kline's support for the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, and how Kline is actually "doing something" to help seniors.

A few minutes later, I saw the same ad, only with Mark Kennedy.

Now while Mark Kennedy's new ads have received a lot of attention, and while John Kline and Mark Kennedy have nearly identical records of rubberstamp support for George Bush, some folks might find it strange that Kline and Kennedy are running the same ad. The explanation is that Kline and Kennedy didn't produce or pay for the ads. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce did. And the Chamber is certainly correct that John Kline and Mark Kennedy both voted for and continue to support the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. The unstated implication of the ad, that the Chamber would really like to help Kline and Kennedy win their elections, is true as well.

But the implicit conclusion, that Medicare Part D is a great bill benefitting seniors, is dead wrong. This post is the first in a series examining Medicare Part D. We'll start with an examination of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their reasons for helping out John Kline and Mark Kennedy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is an advocacy group for businesses, which means their primary purpose is to support legislators and legislation which helps business. This fact alone casts doubt on the ad's implication that Medicare Part D is a great program for America's seniors. But let's dig a little further.

According to Wikipedia, the main legislative priorities for the Chamber are:

  • Supporting Bush's immigration reform plan
  • Pro-ANWR Drilling
  • Pro-Offshore Oil Drilling
  • Pro-Health Savings Accounts
  • Against most forms of tax on business
  • Anti-Minimum Wage

The Center for Media and Democracy says that the Chamber also supports Bush's plan to privatize Social Security. Now while John Kline and Mark Kennedy might not support all of these policies, they certainly support the bulk of them. Kline has voted for drilling in ANWR and for offshore oil drilling, and he most definitely supports Health Savings Account and tax cuts. As we noted earlier, he also championed Bush's failed drive to privatize Social Security last year. So there's little wonder the Chamber likes John Kline and wants to help him retain his seat.

In fact, the Chamber was so eager to help out its favored politicians that it got a bit careless with its fact-checking. Many politicians nationwide are featured in the ads, but at least three of the Republicans the Chamber praised for passing the legislation weren't even in Congress when the bill passed in 2003, and another congressman who was in the House actually voted against it. This is another indicator that the Chamber produced the ads not because Medicare Part D is really great for consumers, but mostly to keep Chamber-friendly legislators on Congress.

Instead of relying on a business advocacy group like the Chamber to weigh the benefits of Medicare Part D for consumers, it probably makes more sense to consult consumer advocacy groups, like Public Citizen and Consumer's Union.

Here's what Public Citizen had to say when George Bush first proposed the legislation:

The Medicare proposal announced by President Bush today betrays seniors and people with disabilities by forcing them to join unreliable private insurance plans in order to get significant coverage for the high cost of prescription drugs. The White House plan, announced during a speech to the American Medical Association, is also far inferior to the bill by House Democrats, also introduced today, to add a drug benefit to Medicare.

Consumer's Union urged its members to write their elected representatives expressing opposition to the plan, and gave this analysis:

An indepth analysis performed by Consumers Union of the proposed Medicare prescription drug benefit reveals a plan that not only falls embarrassingly short of giving seniors a real drug benefit, it likely will threaten Medicare’s viability.

Pretty grim stuff. But these analyses were written three years ago. Do these negative assessments match up with reality? See for yourself.

In a future post, I'll delve into the particulars of Part D. But as an interesting side note, here is an analysis of John Kline's and Mark Kennedy's voting records (All rankings obtained from Project Vote Smart). The first table shows how often Kline and Kennedy supported the agenda of the pro-business, pro-Medicare Part D U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

   Kline  Kennedy
 2001  N/A  91%
 2002  N/A  95%
 2003  100%  93%
 2004  100%  100%
 2005  93%  93%

No wonder the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending millions to help these guys.  Next, here's how often Kline and Kennedy supported the agenda of pro-consumer, anti-Medicare Part D Public Citizen:

   Kline  Kennedy
 2001-02  N/A  5%
 2003  0%  0%
 2003-04  0%  0%

Still think John Kline and Mark Kennedy are great for "doing something" about Medicare?

This is part one of a four-part series on the Medicare Bill.  Make sure to read them all!
  1. The Chamber of Commerce and its support for Kline and Kennedy.
  2. The worst piece of legislation ever enacted.
  3. The Republican culture of corruption in microcosm.
  4. John Kline's bold stand and subsequent crumbling.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Social Security: The Forgotten Issue

[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

Let's travel back in time to February, 2005. In response to far-ranging criticism, Billboard created the Pop 100 music chart. The New England Patriots eked out their second 3-point Super Bowl victory in as many years, staking their claim to dynasty. And George Bush, who himself had just eked out a second consecutive victory the previous fall, gave the first State of the Union speech of his second term, and announced his centerpiece policy initiative: privatization of Social Security.

After 60 days spent traveling around the country talking about his plan, Bush found that the more he talked, the less people wanted to listen. Eventually his privatization plan just sort of faded away. But John Kline was one of the plan's most vocal proponents, and if Kline returns to a Republican-led Congress next year, February 2007 may well look an awful lot like February 2005 (except for the parts about Billboard and the Super Bowl).

An early indication that Bush hasn't given up on his privatization plan came this past February, when he silently slipped it in to his 2007 budget proposal. More recently, Republican House members have been inexplicably promoting the idea again, and two days ago, House Majority Leader John Boehner told the Washington Times "If I'm around in a leadership role come January, we're going to get serious about this." And he's not the only prominent national Republican saying such things.

Remember, whatever problems Social Security might have, George Bush's "personal accounts" will only make the problem worse. And given Social Security's projected insolvency date, Congress has more pressing things to consider, like energy policy, 46 million Americans without health care, and of course, civil war in Iraq.

To my knowledge, John Kline has not made any recent comments about Social Security, but he campaigned long and hard for privatization during the 2005 legislative session. There's every reason to believe he'll do it again in 2007 given the chance.

Coleen Rowley has other priorities.