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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.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Almanac Debate, Part II: Not Iraq

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

On Friday, October 20, John Kline and Coleen Rowley sat down for the only broadcast television debate of this cycle. The first half of the debate centered on the occupation of Iraq, and the second half covered many other issues. What follows is a summary of that discussion, complete with fact checks as necessary.

The Deficit/Budget: Coleen recommends getting the deficit under control by allowing tax cuts for the wealthiest 1%-2% to lapse, reinstituting "pay as you go" budget guidelines, which require that all new spending or tax cuts be offset by corresponding revenue increases, and "no more earmarks". Kline argues that the federal deficit has been cut in half "now, in 2006", and the economy is "robust". Stock market "reached an all-time high". Kline's solution to reducing the deficit is to "contain spending" --- no specifics.

As a fact check, the deficit has not been cut in half "now, in 2006," as Kline claims. The FY 2006 deficit came in at $248 billion. Kline is no doubt referring to the fact that this is less than half of the $521 billion deficit which was estimated for FY 2004, but the actual deficit that year was $413 billion. Half of $413 billion is $206.5 billion. And while smaller deficits are indeed a good thing, they nevertheless continue to grow the overall debt. That's why Congress has had to raise the federal debt ceiling 4 times in five years, as Coleen pointed out (to be fair, she transposed the 4 and the 5. Either way, the debt is skyrocketing). And the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that deficits will start to rise again --- at least if we maintain an open-ended presence in Iraq and make Bush's tax cuts permanent as John Kline advocates.

And while Kline is correct that the Dow Jones average recently hit a record high, that's just putting nice spin on the fact that it's taken 6.5 years for the Dow to get back up to the high point it had reached when Bill Clinton was in office.

Medicare/Social Security: Coleen supports requiring Medicare to use its buying power to negotiate lower drug prices, rather than prohibiting it as the current Part D plan does. She also mentions that this bill is a prime example of the cost of the culture of corruption (much more analysis is available here).

Coleen then jumps back to the issues of the economy, pointing out that "real, median income has remained stagnant or has dropped." Kline jumps in with "real wages, by the way, are up almost twice what they were in the 1990's. Real wages are up in this country, as well as family incomes. The economy is robust."

We know where Coleen got her information that "real, median income has remained stagnant or dropped" --- from the Census Bureau. That same report indicates that real average income is rising, and perhaps this is where Kline gets his statement that real wages "are up almost twice what they were in the 1990's." However, it's clear that average wages have not doubled in just 7 years, so I don't really know what Kline is trying to say --- other than to produce some really impressive-sounding statistics about the economy.

Getting back to entitlement reform, Kline says: "The upcoming crunch, when we baby boomers retire, in Social Security and Medicare, is going to be crushing. And we are going to have to have the courage to step up and fix that." However, he provides no specifics, such as his long-standing support for privatizing Social Security.

Energy: The two candidates agree --- in principle --- on all aspects of energy policy but one. Kline supports increased domestic production, specifically via increased production in ANWR and elsewhere, which Coleen does not. And Kline specifically cites his vote in favor of the recently-passed energy bill.

There's nothing really to fact-check here, but I would like to point out that the difference between the candidates is really much greater than whether or not to allow drilling in ANWR. For example, according to the Washington Post, the energy bill Kline voted for:

. . . exempts oil and gas industries from some clean-water laws, streamlines permits for oil wells and power lines on public lands, and helps the hydropower industry appeal environmental restrictions. One obscure provision would repeal a Depression-era law that has prevented consolidation of public utilities, potentially transforming the nation's electricity markets.

(snip)

For example, it exempts oil and gas companies from Safe Drinking Water Act requirements when they inject fluids -- including some carcinogens -- into the earth at high pressure, a process known as hydraulic fracturing. Betty Anthony, director for exploration and production at the American Petroleum Institute, said states already regulate the process, but residents of Alabama, Virginia, West Virginia and other states have complained that it has polluted groundwater in their communities. Meanwhile, the measure will streamline Bureau of Land Management drilling permits -- even though the Bush administration already has granted a record number of permits on BLM land. Lawmakers also authorized seismic blasting in sensitive marine areas to gauge offshore oil reserves -- despite a moratorium on drilling in many of those areas. And the bill will exempt petroleum well pads from storm-water regulations under the Clean Water Act.

Certainly legislators need to compromise in order to get laws passed --- for example, this bill does not include the ANWR drilling which Kline supports --- but it's difficult to believe the Republicans couldn't have passed an energy bill which keeps our drinking water safe if they really wanted to. And Rowley for Congress has previously pointed out other votes Kline has cast which seem to serve no one but the oil industry.

Coleen, on the other hand, supports a much greater emphasis on alternative energy technology.

Immigration: When Cathy Wurzer asks whether a fence on the U.S. Mexico border will really work, Kline doesn't answer the question, saying only that "they're essential" and lists the need for a fence, sensors and increased border patrol. He also mentions the need for an identification system and employer sanctions.

Coleen's approach to immigration starts with fully-funding border patrol and providing them with the tools they need to do their job. Like Kline, she points out the need to enforce existing laws against illegally employing undocumented workers. But the real fireworks comes in the brief debate over Coleen's plan for dealing with the estimated 11 million undocumented workers already in the U.S.: a path to earned citizenship. Coleen supports granting citizenship to undocumented workers who

  • Work a steady job for 6 years.
  • Pay a $2,000 fine and all back taxes owed.
  • Learn English and American civics.
  • Pass a rigorous criminal and national security background check.

Kline opposes this, but has never said what he would do differently. He hasn't said that he would arrest and deport all 11 million undocumented workers, and that's a good thing since it would rip apart families and communities, not to mention that it would place an impossible burden on our law enforcement agencies. The closest Kline has come to stating a policy was on the public access cable show Access to Democracy, when he said:

Well, it wouldn't be, I mean, it's a false choice to say we have to let them stay or we have to bus them out. That's not the choice that's there. Many will leave themselves if there's a mechanism for them to come back in . . . .

As with the discussion on Iraq, Kline criticizes Coleen's plan without offering any of his own. He carps that he "constantly [has] difficulty getting a solution from Mrs. Rowley," but after 20 minutes of debate, Kline's "solutions" can be summarized as:

  • Win in Iraq.
  • Contain spending.
  • Fix Social Security and Medicare.
  • Increase domestic energy production.

These aren't solutions, they are goals. Kline provides no detail about how to accomplish any of these. He only gives specifics twice during the entire debate. He provides a lot of information --- much of it false or misleading --- about the health of the economy, and he provides a moderately detailed plan for preventing people from coming to the U.S. illegally from a certain 700 mile long area of Mexico. But he provides no plan for winning in Iraq, no plan for containing spending, no plan for fixing Social Security and Medicare (we know his plan for Social Security is to privatize it, but he's too clever to say that right before an election), and his only plan to increase domestic energy production is to encourage more drilling.

Anyone looking for solutions from Coleen need look no further than the issues page of this website. Anyone looking for solutions from John Kline has their work cut out for them.

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