Archive for the ‘GOP Watch’ Category

Are Republicans Trying to Sabotage the Economy?

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Bob Corker, Lamar Alexander, Phil Roe, Jimmy Duncan, Chuck Fleischmann, Scott DesJarlais, Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn, and Stephen Fincher need to stop playing politics with our nation’s economy.

From the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee:

It sure looks like Republicans are trying to sabotage the economy for political gain. You might think that sounds like a tin foil hat conspiracy theory until you consider this: Republicans are now opposing measures to boost the economy that they previously have supported. Even TAX CUTS.

Here’s what Sen. Chuck Schumer said Wednesday about Republican opposition to a payroll tax cut to boost hiring:

“It’s pro-business, it’s a tax cut, and many Republicans have been for it in the past. But now all of a sudden they’re coming out against it. … Would Republicans really oppose a tax cut for business that created jobs? This is sort of beyond the pale. So if they’d oppose even something so suited to their tastes ideologically, it shows that they’re just opposing anything that would help create jobs. It almost makes you wonder if they aren’t trying to slow down the economic recovery for political gain.”

Why would Republicans do such a thing? Because they’re more interested in getting re-elected – and getting President Obama out of the White House – than they are in helping the economy get moving again. They’re more interested in their jobs than your jobs. It’s that simple. And we’re calling them out.

With unemployment rising in Tennessee, now is not the time to put party before country. Our lawmakers should stand up for working people and our state’s middle class by supporting common sense tax relief to grow our economy.

Haslam Signed Law That Places Price on Life

Thursday, June 16th, 2011
job counter

Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law today his pet project to take away a jury's power in cases where citizens are harmed by businesses. He says it will create jobs. We're keeping track.

The Republican-dominated legislature passed and Gov. Bill Haslam signed into a law a measure that caps damages awarded to victims of horrific accidents, medical malpractice and other life-changing injuries. Mr. Haslam said perverting the justice system would “create jobs” — we’re holding him to it. 

Republicans said their plan to protect insurance companies profits and reckless corporations will increase business prospects in Tennessee, despite the fact that after eight years of Democratic leadership, Tennessee is already continually ranked one of the best states to do business.

An Associated Press story noted that last year in Tennessee, only 14 trials exceeded the proposed caps, meaning there would be no radical change to the state’s job creation climate, as supporters claim. There is no evidence that Tennessee juries have been tossing about outrageous awards, however, or that businesses were afraid to move here because of it.

So instead, Republicans put a price on life. $29 a day for the lifetime of a 20-year-old girl who had suffered just such an injury, Democratic state Sen. Roy Herron pointed out.

“Today state lawmakers put a price on the life of our children. They put a price on the life of our parents and grandparents. They put a price on the life of the weak, the paralyzed, the neglected — all under the guise of economic development,” Senator Eric Stewart of Belvidere said.

FACTS:

Caps on jury awards was Haslam’s pet project, perhaps because his multi-million dollar business is tied up in a lawsuit stemming from a citizen being killed at a Pilot gas station owned by the governor. [WSMV.com, 3/2/11]

Under Haslam leadership, the unemployment rate jumped in June for a third straight month. [wrcbtv.com, 6/16/11]

 

House Democrats: Don’t Change Our Economic Viability

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Bredesen Administration, House Leadership Boosts Tennessee to Sixth in Nation

(Nashville) – Tennessee jumped to sixth in the nation in economic growth last year and House Democrats are calling on the new Republican majority to keep in place the current job recruitment and economic development structure.

Tennessee accomplished stellar economic improvement last year moving up to sixth out of the 50 states in gross state product, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

“This is something that we’ve worked on for years through fiscally conservative budgeting and steady global and national job recruitment,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner (D-Old Hickory). “When we bring jobs to this state, naturally, working families are going to contribute to a more vibrant economy.”

The Republican Majority has laid off 60 employees in the state Economic and Community Development department, while deciding that the state’s focus should be diverted from global and national company recruitment. The department was instrumental in recruiting thousands of jobs through global and national company recruitment, including the likes of Volkswagen, Nissan, Dow Hemlock, Wacker Chemie and SAIC.

“This new announcement by the Bureau of Economic Analysis is very revealing and it shows that what we’ve been doing over the last decade or so is working,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley). “To change this positive budget and job recruitment philosophy is the wrong thing to do right now; we need more jobs and we need them now.”

House Democrats, which ran the Finance Committee and carried Gov. Phil Bredesen’s jobs packages over the last eight years, were very successful in bringing jobs back to Tennessee.

Last year, Site Selection magazine ranked Tennessee the second best state for business climate, corporate investment and job creation. Southern Business and Development magazine ranked Tennessee co-state of the year for economic development and Chief Executive Officer magazine said Tennessee was the third best place to do business.

“The economic development path paved by the Bredesen administration is working. At the risk of our state losing jobs, now is not the time to stray from a path proven to produce results,” said Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh (D-Covington).

‘If China Calls, Let it Go to Voicemail’

Monday, June 6th, 2011

“Congress has rejected raising the debt ceiling, so if China calls, let it go to voicemail.” - Stephen Colbert

“odd political theater”

“just for show”

 

U.S. Reps. Phil Roe, Jimmy Duncan, Chuck Fleischmann, Scott Desjarlias, Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn and Stephen Fincher all voted for a budget that raises America’s debt 60% but voted against raising the debt limit.

FACT: Republican Votes Against Raising Debt Ceiling “JUST FOR SHOW.” Tenn. Republicans are happily playing politics with the full faith and credit of the United States. Republicans urged the defeat of their own measure, while Democrats — who not long ago were seeking just such a vote to raise the debt ceiling without attaching spending cuts — assailed Republicans for bringing it up, saying its certain defeat might unnerve the financial markets. Just in case, Republican leaders scheduled the vote for after the stock market’s close, and in the preceding days called Wall Street executives to assure them that the vote was just for show, to show Mr. Obama that he would have to make concessions in budget negotiations if a debt-limit increase is to pass Congress. [New York Times,
6/1/11]


FACT: PAUL RYAN BUDGET WOULD INCREASE U.S. DEBT 60% (& DESTROY MEDICARE). The Paul Ryan Budget that U.S. Reps. Phil Roe, Jimmy Duncan, Chuck Fleischmann, Scott Desjarlias, Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn and Stephen Fincher voted for, would raise the debt limit over 60%. Republicans are holding the debt ceiling hostage by claiming that “Washington must begin living within its means.” However, the Paul Ryan budget, supported by every Tennessee Republican U.S. Representative, would increase the national debt (61.5%) from $14.3 trillion today to more than $23.1 trillion by 2021. [Los Angeles Times, 4/15/11]

 

NOT RAISING THE DEBT LIMIT WOULD BE ‘CATASTROPHIC’

JP Morgan Chase CEO: Raising The Debt Ceiling “It’s A Moral Obligation.” “The U.S. Treasury will officially hit its credit limit around May 16 for the 10th time in 10 years. If House Republicans prolong the fight over raising the debt ceiling past that date, government officials and Wall Street investors agree that it would cause financial chaos. ‘This chatter about not meeting our obligations, I just don’t understand it,’ JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said late last month during an event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  Dimon is one of the few business leaders who have been outspoken on the issue. ‘It’s a moral obligation to ourselves and anyone who owns U.S. debt,’ he said. ‘They should know the United States is good for its money, period.’” [NPR, 4/13/11]

Chief Economist For The U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Said If Congress Didn’t Raise The Debt Limit The Result Would Be Higher Interest Rates , Financial Uncertainty And Damage To The Nation’s Fragile Economy. “Martin Regalia, chief economist for the [U.S. Chamber of Commerce], agrees that there’s no other option but to raise the debt limit. The chamber is lobbying Congress and educating lawmakers about what it could mean if that doesn’t happen: higher interest rates, financial uncertainty and damage to the nation’s fragile economy. Regalia says the ramifications of a default — or even a close call — can be an eye-opener for lawmakers. ‘It’s no reflection on them that they don’t fully understand the nuances of a budget process that I don’t think anyone fully understands.’” [NPR,4/13/11]

“The Debt Problem Won’t Be Resolved – And May Even Be Made Worse – By Not Raising The [Debt Ceiling.” “A number of lawmakers -- some of whom will speak at a Tea Party rally on Thursday -- have said they will not vote to increase the debt limit because it would be fiscally irresponsible. But their rhetoric is misleading because it conflates two different things. There's raising the debt ceiling, which is a technical necessity. Then there is the country's actual debt problem, which is a political and policy matter. Indeed, the debt problem won't be resolved -- and may even be made worse -- by not raising the ceiling.”  [CNN Money, 4/1/11]

House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling “It Would Be Catastrophic To Have The Nation Default Upon Its Debt.” “Both House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that not raising the debt ceiling is not an option – although they disagree on how future budgets should address closing the budget gap.  ‘What I do think is, yes, it would be catastrophic to have the nation default upon its debt,’ Hensarling said.” [Hill, 4/10/11]

House Speaker Boehner Said Defaulting On The Debt By Not Raising The Ceiling “Would Be A Financial Disaster, Not Only For Us, But For The Worldwide Economy.” “The possibility of the U.S. defaulting on its debt due to congressional inaction isn’t on the table, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Sunday. Boehner said it would mean ‘financial disaster’ for the global economy if Congress were unable to come to a deal to raise the debt ceiling this spring. ‘That would be a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy,’ Boehner said on ‘Fox News Sunday’ of the risk of default. ‘I don’t think it’s a question that’s even on the table.’” [Hill, 1/30/11]

 

 

Gov. Haslam’s Comments On Class Size Will Trouble Teachers

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

One second Governor Bill Haslam applauds Tennessee teachers. The next moment Mr. Haslam subtly paints Tennessee teachers as broadly ineffective.

Recently Mr. Haslam gave us more of the later.

Addressing a group of young women, the governor said that class size doesn’t matter. He followed it up by saying, “having a great teacher with 25 students is better than having a mediocre teacher with 18 students.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 6/1/11]

Doubling down on this thinking, Mr. Haslam said his goal is “to push our education [system] toward making sure we have a great teacher in front of every classroom regardless of the classroom size.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 6/1/11]

Is the hunt for “great teachers” an implication that the majority of Tennessee teachers are not “great teachers” — regardless of classroom size?

And he says there’s no morale problem.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press chastised Haslam for his plan to increase classroom size:

In fact, relying on the myth that “quality teachers” are all that matters will only add to teachers’ burdens.

Gov. Haslam’s comments came in an address in Nashville to hundreds of rising seniors attending the Volunteer Girls State leadership program. He also used the “quality teachers” theme to justify the authority he successfully secured from the Legislature this spring to tighten teacher tenure standards.

He said those standards, which both extended the time needed for teachers to receive tenure from three to five years, and made tenure more conditional, were key to his efforts to “push our education (system) toward making sure we have a great teachers in front of every classroom regardless of the classroom size.”

That’s gimmickry baloney. In reality, his tenure bill, like his charter school initiative and the Legislature’s new ban on teachers’ bargaining rights and political action committees, are political ploys, not education improvements. As a practical matter, it will take much more to pull Tennessee’s public education ranking out of the cellar.

While no one denies that a great teacher can do wonders in a child’s education, lower class sizes can have an across the board positive impact on student achievement.

The amount of research done on the effects of class size is extensive, and all of it comes to the same conclusion. Smaller class size is a concrete, measurable, and replicable way to increase student achievement.

QUESTIONS LINGER

Mr. Haslam’s comments open the door for many questions about his education agenda for next legislative session:

»   Do you plan on increasing class size limits or eliminating the caps?

»   Do you plan on extending the school year?

»   Do you plan on pay raises for “great” teachers?

»   Who decides which teachers are “great”?

»   How would you entice more of these “great teachers” to Tennessee? Pay? Benefits? Job security?

»   Larger classrooms means fewer teachers. What is the plan for firing teachers who are not “great”? Should mass layoffs be on the table?

»   Is the relentless “reforming” of education an effort to solve a problem that could be caused, indirectly, by other factors you’re not addressing, i.e. 300,000 jobless Tennesseans, poverty, etc.?

FACT CHECK: Class Size Matters

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

HASLAM RHETORIC: Class Size Doesn’t Matter

Gov. Bill Haslam says class size doesn’t matter. “Most studies have shown that class size is not as direct a relationship to achievement as people have thought in the past, that having a great teacher with 25 students is better than having a mediocre teacher with 18 students.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 6/1/11]

»   Is the hunt for “great teachers” an implication that the majority of Tennessee teachers are not great — regardless of classroom size?

 

REALITY: Class Size Matters

A Study of 900,000 Students Over 70 Years. The seminal study on the effect of class size in education is Meta-Analysis of Research on the Relationship of Class-Size Achievementpublished in 1978 by the Laboratory of Educational Research at University of Colorado. The study is based on “data from a total of 900,000 pupils spanning 70 years research in more than a dozen countries.” [“Meta-Analysis of Research on the Relationship of Class-Size and Achievement,” pg. 31, Laboratory of Educational Research at the University of Colorado, 9/1978, accessed 6/1/11]

SIGNIFICANT FINDINGS

»   Reduced class-size can be expected to produce increased academic achievement. [“Meta-Analysis of Research on the Relationship of Class-Size and Achievement,” pg. 8, accessed 6/1/11]

»   The major benefits from reduced class-size are obtained when class size is reduced below 20 pupils. [“Meta-Analysis of Research on the Relationship of Class-Size and Achievement,” pg. 9, accessed 6/1/11]

 

Tennessee was the starting point for modern push for smaller classrooms. It began with Gov. Lamar Alexander and the Tennessee’s Project STAR (Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio). The Brookings Institute called Tennessee’s Student Teacher Achievement Ratio, or STAR, “the most influential and credible study of CRS (class room size).” Conducted in Tennessee during the late 1980s, in this study, students and teachers were randomly assigned to a small class, with an average of 15 students, or a regular class, with an average of 22 students. [Brookings Institute, 5/11/11

SIGNIFICANT FINDINGS

»   Smaller Class Sizes Improved Achievement by 32%. This large reduction in class size (7 students, or 32 percent) was found to increase student achievement by an amount equivalent to about 3 additional months of schooling four years later. [Quarterly Journal of Economics, 6/1997]

»   Minority Students Doubled Achievement. Smaller class sizes produced “substantial improvement in early learning and cognitive studies and that the effect of small class size on the achievement of minority children was initially about double that observed for majority children. [“The Tennessee Study of Class Size in the Early Grades,” 1995, accessed 6/1/11]

»   Small Class Sizes Produce Lasting Effects.Children who were originally enrolled in smaller classes continued to perform better than their grade-mates (whose school experience had begun in larger classes) when they were returned to regular-sized classes in later grades.” [“The Tennessee Study of Class Size in the Early Grades,” 1995, accessed 6/1/11]

»   In Tennessee, Smaller Class Sizes Have Paid For Themselves. Education cost-benefit analysis expert Alan B. Krueger estimated that the return on the investment in smaller class sizes in Tennessee was slightly bigger (6 percent) than the costs of implementing the program. [Quarterly Journal of Economics, 6/1997]

 

The Jackson Sun: Voters will reject GOP over needless Medicare cutbacks

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

The Jackson Sun opinion editor Tom Bohs recently took Republicans to task for their vote to radically change Medicare into a vulture voucher system. The Paul Ryan, budget wonks say, would increase the out-of-pocket cost of health care for seniors by more than $6,500 a year.

Sens. Bob Corker, Lamar Alexander voted for it. As did Reps. Phil Roe, Jimmy Duncan, Chuck Fleischmann, Scott DesJarlias, Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn and Stephen Fincher.

From The Jackson Sun:

Republicans shot themselves in the foot by proposing to end traditional Medicare and replace it with vouchers for private insurance. If they don’t drop this scheme, it will cost them dearly in the 2012 election cycle.

Not only would privatizing Medicare through a system of insurance premium vouchers wildly complicate the purchase of health insurance for senior citizens, it is unnecessary.

Not only would privatizing Medicare through a system of insurance premium vouchers wildly complicate the purchase of health insurance for senior citizens, it is unnecessary. Seniors already have private insurance options under Medicare through Medicare Advantage plans, Medicare supplement plans and Medicare Part D prescription drug plans. The only thing the voucher system would take away is the government option for Part A (hospital) and Part B (doctor services) that seniors know and largely love — talk about biting the hand that votes for you.

Under the voucher plan proposed by Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, seniors would be allotted money they could spend on health insurance purchased through private insurance companies. The advantage, according to Ryan and other Republicans, is that people would be able to choose the health insurance that best suits their needs.

That is the biggest false hope I have ever heard perpetrated on old people. What is the best health insurance policy for anyone? The best policy is the one that pays the bills when you get sick without splitting hairs over whether a particular illness, procedure, service, doctor or medication is excluded in the fine print of the insurance contract.

It is a fallacy that different people have different health insurance needs. What health problem don’t you want coverage for? The idea that some people are in better health than others and don’t need as much health insurance is nonsense. No one can predict life’s illnesses and health mishaps, let alone those of old age. It would be like buying car insurance that only covered you on some days of the week.

The other reason Ryan’s approach to privatizing Medicare to save money surprises me is that it is unnecessary. The system is solvent for many years to come. Shortfalls after that easily can be addressed long before they materialize. Ryan is solving a problem that doesn’t exist, and making seniors and other voters angry in the process. He should focus on problems that are real and on the table right now such as the national debt, high unemployment, mortgage defaults and a host of social, military and international affairs challenges we face.

But the thing I find most disturbing about privatizing Medicare is that it complicates the last bastion of senior citizen comfort. People who are old, sick or near the end of life don’t want to be burdened with complicated insurance decisions. Can Republicans not let old people just finish out their years with peace of mind without a lot of rah-rah, take responsibility, every man for himself flag waving? All that’s fine when you’re young or 40 or 50 and still building your lifestyle and personal security. But when you are 70 or 80 or older, the last thing you need is a bunch of insurance companies trying to get their hands in your pocket.

The final problem with Ryan’s Medicare voucher scheme is that it might not – and I would hazard an educated guess it would not – be sufficient to purchase health insurance that would provide anywhere near the coverage afforded by Medicare. What would people do when their benefits ran out? Ryan doesn’t address that. Again, it would be every man for himself. Of course, there might still be Medicaid available to those brought to penury by uncovered medical expenses. But that only puts the burden on others, to say nothing of the emotional and psychological blow it would inflict on seniors.

Good grief. Medicare works. Leave it alone and find something to tinker with that really needs fixing. [Jackson Sun, 5/28/11]

FACTS & BACKGROUND:

 

REALITY: TENNESSEE’S ENTIRE REPUBLICAN U.S. HOUSE & SENATE DELEGATION VOTED FOR THE PAUL RYAN BUDGET

Tennessee Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander voted for Paul Ryan’s budget to privatize Medicare. [Senate.gov Roll Call Vote, 5/25/11]

Tennessee’s entire Republican delegation (Reps. Phil Roe, Jimmy Duncan, Chuck Fleischmann, Scott DesJarlais, Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn, Stephen Fincher) voted to turn Medicare into a voucher system. [U.S. House Clerk, April 15, 2011]

More than 1 million Tennesseans are enrolled in Medicare. [statehealthfacts.org, accessed April 15, 2011]


REALITY: REP. RYAN’S VOUCHER SYSTEM WOULD COST SENIORS THOUSANDS IN OUT-OF-POCKET EXPENSES

The Economist: Rep. Paul Ryan’s Plan Shifts The Burden Of Risk Onto Seniors By Only Delivering A Voucher For An Amount Ryan Thinks Ought To Be Enough For Health Care, Not Guaranteeing All Care. [Economist, 4/5/11]

Politifact: Rep. Paul Ryan’s Budget Plan Would Force The Average Senior Receiving Medicare To Pay $6,350 More Out-Of-Pocket For Health Care. [Politifact, 5/6/11]

Center for Economic Policy Research: A Person Born In 1957 At Age 65 Will Require An Additional $182,000 In Retirement Savings In Order To Purchase Private Insurance Rather Than Accept Coverage Through Medicare. [Center for Economic and Policy Research, “Letter to Rep. George Miller”]

 

REALITY: THE REPUBLICAN BUDGET ENDS MEDICARE AS WE KNOW IT

Wall Street Journal: “The [GOP Budget] Plan Would Essentially End Medicare.” [Wall Street Journal, 4/4/11]

Los Angeles Times: “Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare Privatization Plan Increases Costs, Budget Office Says.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/8/11]

CBO: The Ryan Budget Plan Would Increase Debt In The First Ten Years. [TPM, 4/5/11]

The Fiscal Times: “The Big Winners” In The Republican Budget Would Be “High Income Earners And Corporations, Who Top Tax Rate Would Be Reduced From 35 To 25 Percent.” [Fiscal Times, 4/5/11]

 

REALITY: THE REPUBLICAN BUDGET RELIES ON “QUESTIONABLE ASSUMPTIONS” AND “FISHY FIGURES”

Washington Post: “The Ryan Budget Plan Relies On Dubious Assertions, Questionable Assumptions And Fishy Figures.” [Washington Post, 4/9/11]

National Journal: “Ryan Plan Pushes Optimism To The Outer Limits.” [National Journal, 4/5/11]

Money Buys Access, Access is Power

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

The Branches of Government

Political reporters this weekend reported on the overwhelming influence of money in state politics.

Long story short: with Republicans in charge, there’s more money — from rich and powerful interests — in state politics than ever before.

And with the new GOP rules that raise contribution limits and allow direct donations from businesses, the influence of special interest groups — not hard-working citizens who can’t afford lobbyists — is only going to increase.

“Lobbyists had busy year in Nashville,” Times Free Press:

Special interests this year spent millions of dollars seeking to influence the Tennessee General Assembly on issues ranging from a proposed cap on personal injury lawsuit awards to letting grocery stores sell wine, records show.

Fights in these and other areas, including education policy and telecommunications competition, often played out not only in committee rooms and on the House and Senate floor but behind the scenes in lawmakers’ offices, legislative corridors and sometimes lavish receptions for lawmakers.

Groups also spent money in more public ways with studies, telemarketing campaigns and advertising aimed at encouraging the public to pressure legislators.

In the view of Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga: “Special interests play an outsized role in our government and especially in our legislature.”

Obviously, what we do affects wholesale industries, but it’s difficult not to look at what goes on in the legislature and worry about the individual citizen having his proper say, also,” Berke said.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, countered that lobbyists represent Tennesseans who don’t have time to come to the legislature every day.

It’s good for anyone to get their story in front of the legislators, especially the legislators that aren’t necessarily familiar with the issue. In that way, I think just anyone coming to see you would be helpful to their cause,” McCormick said.

Moreover, he said, “We can’t stop people from lobbying. I think the First Amendment makes it clear that people can come lobby, so we have set up a system where they have to at least report who’s paying them.

Nearly $520,000 was spent in total. That’s according to filings on the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance website. But it was only a fraction of lobbying costs. The reporting period came seven weeks before the May 21 end of the legislative session, so many totals will be higher.

Other lobby disclosures reveal scrambling by Amazon.com to fend off lawmakers and retailers who hoped to force it to collect state sales taxes at distribution centers it is building in Chattanooga and Bradley County.

Amazon increased its lobbying staff from one to 10, records show.

AT AN ADVANTAGE

Dick Williams with the watchdog group Tennessee Common Cause, said that when combined with campaign contributions, groups that lobby at the Capitol have an advantage.

Businesses, in particular, benefit, he said.

It just flies in the face that lobbying and contributions don’t influence legislation,” Williams said. Companies “want to get results that directly affect their bottom line.”

“$519,000 Used To Entertain State Lawmakers,” WSMV:

Special interest groups spent at least $519,000 this year wining and dining state lawmakers. Last year, even though the legislative session was longer, only $390,000 was spent.

You’ve got a lot of new legislators that special interests or lobbying groups want to ‘educate’ to their issues,” said Dick Williams of Common Cause of Tennessee, a voter watchdog group.

The five of the most expensive events were:

  • The Farm Bureau spent more than $23,000 on a luncheon
  • AT&T shelled out $22,000 for a reception
  • The Hospital Association spent $18,000
  • The School Board Association
  • The Chamber of Commerce reported events costing $17,000.

AT&T had a bill opposed by small phone companies up in the Legislature. The hospital association was a big backer of capping lawsuit damages. The School Board Association was the force behind this year’s most controversial issue: ending collective bargaining for teachers.

“Corporations and for-profit companies don’t spend that kind of money on something they don’t feel is going to bring them some return either financial or otherwise,” said Williams.

“Interest groups wined, dined TN lawmakers,” The Tennessean:

Special interest groups and lobbyists, ranging from the Tennessee Concrete Association to the Tennessee Bar Association, hosted 75 events, according to reports filed with the Tennessee Ethics Commission.

“We’re always dealing with concentrated benefits and distributed costs,” said community activist and tea party leader Ben Cunningham. “That’s the reality of government. Everybody pays for it, and in many cases the recipients of government largess are small groups, small corporations … who can justify spending huge amounts of money on attaining special favors. That’s the nature of the beast.”

Money buys access

Cunningham said the average citizen has a difficult time getting the attention of his state senator or representative the way special interest groups can with expensive events.

“Money means access, and access means power,” Cunningham said. “That is very much true in politics today. It’s probably going to continue to be true, unfortunately.”

Other expensive events were held by corporations including AT&T, which hosted a reception with an open bar and hors d’oeuvres, at a cost of $22,406.39.

RELATED ARTICLES

Chattanooga Times Free Press Rails Against Bank Influence. “It’s pretty obvious that the Republican-dominated Tennessee General Assembly puts the interests of banks ahead of those of the average Tennessean. Why else would legislators be in such a rush to approve a law that would significantly reduce the advance warning home-owners receive before their property is foreclosed? The only plausible explanation is that legislators are far more willing to do the bidding of the well-heeled bankers and their lobbyists than to properly serve and protect those who elected them to office. [“Foreclosure bill is bad law,” Chattanooga Times Free Press Editorial Board, 5/13/11]

Gov. Bill Haslam Hosts GOP Fundraiser During Legislative Session. The lavish soirée was held March 31 at the governor’s mansion in the “the party room.” Tickets ranged from $3,000 to $25,000. [Humphrey on the Hill, May 23, 2011]

Haslam Flaunts Fundraising Ethics Rules. State law bans fundraising by legislators while the General Assembly is in session. It was passed years ago to address public perceptions that lawmakers were “shaking down” special interests with business being considered by the legislature. [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 3/22/11]

Reps. Tim Wirgau, Glen Casada: Out-of-work Tennesseans, You’re On Your Own

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Jobs aren’t the only thing you can’t find in Tennessee, we’re also in the middle of a major leadership crisis.

Democrats won the fight to include jobless benefits for 28,000 Tennesseans in the final state budget, but it wasn’t without callous and incorrect dissent from Republicans.

GOP Rhetoric:

Rep. Glen Casada: “I would contend the answer to that is it’s up to individuals to help their family and their friends and neighbors who don’t have a job.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 5/20/11]

Rep. Tim Wirgau: “We got people who can’t find jobs, but we got more people who don’t look for jobs because we keep handing them money.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 5/20/11]

Gov. Haslam’s first budget didn’t include this funding. His administration said helping jobless Tennesseans was not a “top priority.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 5/20/11]

Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey opposed extending the benefits, saying that after 79 weeks “you have to draw the line in the sand and say: ‘This is it.’” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 5/21/11]

***

Instead of looking for meaningful solutions to fix our state economy by laying out serious plans to put 300,000 out of work Tennesseans back on the job, our elected leaders Rep. Glen Casada and Rep. Tim Wirgau demonized citizens for being out of a job.

THE FACTS: Bad GOP Economy, Lack of Jobs to Go Around

Tennesseans are looking for jobs, but, under this Republican leadership, the state economy is toxic. When the jobs picture in 47 states has stabilized or improving – how is it that Tennessee’s unemployment problem is getting worse? [Bloomberg, 5/20/11]

Payrolls grew in 42 states in April. The only states going the opposite direction were Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.

The jobs that do open up are getting tons of attention.

  • In Hamilton County, Amazon.com  received 4,300 applications in two days. They can only hire a fraction of those people. You can’t tell me people aren’t looking. [Memphis Business Journal, 5/18/11]
  • In Tullahoma, 60 people applied for 10 jobs — at McDonalds. [Tullahoma News & Guardian, 4/28/11]
  • In Shelby County, more than 20,000 job-seekers applied over 14 days to work at a brewery that plans to hire 500 workers over the next five years. [The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal, 4/13/11]
  • In Montgomery County, “thousands of people” attend a two-day job fair in Clarksville. [The Leaf-Chronicle, 4/28/11]
  • In Rutherford County, 800 people apply for teaching positions. [Daily News Journal, 5/15/11]
  • In Knox County, Jobs News’ drew more than 1,400 seekers. [WVLT, 5/4/11]

Betsy Phillips at The Nashville Scene has more on Wirgau and Casada:

I hope y’all didn’t miss this little gem on Friday. In a story about extending the unemployment benefits for thousands of our most-screwed Tennesseans, Glen “Let Then Eat Cake” Casada and Tim Wirgau argued against the measure.

Andy Sher, in the Chattanooga Times Free Press , has the relevant quotes.

First from Casada:

But Rep. Glen Casada, R-College Grove, the former House Republican Caucus chairman, spoke against acting, saying that although most of the money comes from the federal government, it affects all taxpayers.

“We cannot continue to borrow money to give to people who don’t have a job after 79 weeks,” Casada told the chamber. “I would contend the answer to that is it’s up to individuals to help their family and their friends and neighbors who don’t have a job.”

Apparently Casada doesn’t know that individuals who have family, friends and neighbors are taxpayers, but Casada is … well, Casada. Hard to even get mad at him anymore, really.

But Tim Wirgau is a more interesting case. He says, “We got people who can’t find jobs, but we got more people who don’t look for jobs because we keep handing them money.” Got that? There are, according to Wirgau, people who can’t find jobs — that’s one group — but there’s a larger group of people who don’t even bother to look for jobs because they’re lolling around counting that sweet unemployment money.

In Wirgau’s own district in March, there were 3,420 people out of work. If some of them can’t find jobs but “more” of them aren’t even bothering to look, that means there are, at the least, 1,711 people in District 75 who just aren’t trying hard enough, by Wirgau’s own metric. There are jobs; those jackasses just aren’t working them.

Here’s my question: If what Wirgau says is true — there are all those people who could find jobs, if they’d just look, which would mean there’s at least 1,711 open positions in his district, why isn’t he setting up some kind of program to tell the people who can’t find jobs about them?

 

 

 

Democratic Party Chairman Urges Governor to ‘Act Responsibly’

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 17, 2011

$60M in Federal Jobless Benefits for 28,000 Tennesseans Lost if Republicans Fail to Act

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester issued the following statement urging Gov. Bill Haslam and Republican legislators to pass law to reinstate jobless benefits for 28,000 Tennesseans:

Partisan politics shouldn’t threaten the economic future of 28,000 Tennesseans who can’t find work due to a recession that was no fault of their own.

Gov. Bill Haslam and Republican legislators haven’t lived up to their promise to create jobs, and now their negligence is jeopardizing critical financial support that is keeping children fed, bills paid and families out of foreclosure.

We’ve seen harmful bills that rob citizens and teachers of their rights get all the attention this session. Now Republicans have a chance to make an actual difference by fixing their screw up.

Mr. Haslam needs to prove he’s serious about governing – not scoring political points. The livelihood of nearly 30,000 citizens is on the line. Republicans owe it to these hurting families to act responsibly.

FACTS:

US Department of Labor estimates unemployment benefits give taxpayers a 2-to-1 return on investment. For the modest expenditure of less than $2 million, Tennessee would receive $60 million, which translates to $120 million of economic activity, according to a study commissioned by the labor department. The study suggests these dollars are injected quickly into the local economy and could potentially add more than $5 million directly to state sales tax collections. [US Department of Labor, 11/10]

Democrats scramble on to revive jobless benefits that Republicans failed to prioritize. Republicans, who control the General Assembly and set the legislative schedule, failed to pass a law to extend unemployment benefits for 28,000 jobless Tennesseans. Now legislative Democrats are pushing to reinstate the benefits, with House and Senate committees scheduled to meet Monday to consider last-minute bills to resurrect the program. Success would bring nearly $60 million in federal funds to pay up to 20 more weeks of benefits for Tennesseans unable to find jobs in a still-fragile economy. But it’s unclear whether Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and the Republican-controlled General Assembly will go along. [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 5/15/11]

GOP Sen. Mark Norris says Haslam administration signaled they wouldn’t pursue bill to extend jobless benefits. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said today that state Employment Security Administrator Don Ingram last week “made it very clear that the administration’s position at least had been that they didn’t intend to pursue it.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 5/16/11]