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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 22, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 22, 2011

CREATED Jul 22, 2011

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

July 22, 2011

A POLITICAL RESURRECTION; MAYOR DEAN ON INSIDE POLITICS; FROM OUTSIDE THE DISTRICT; ROLE REVERSAL; GOOD CONSTITUENT SERVICES OR NOT; NASHVILLE ICONS SAVED; HITCHHIKER;

A POLITICAL RESURRECTION

There's been a lot of political theatre on display in Washington these past few weeks as President Barack Obama and the Congress try to come up with a solution for the debt ceiling/budget deficit crisis that looms larger each day as we approach an August 2 deadline for the country to avoid defaulting on its debts for the first time.

Now we are seeing a "political resurrection" with the Gang of 6 in the U.S. Senate offering a proposal that could provide an outline for a compromise solution. The Gang of 6, a bi-partisan group made up of 3 Democrats and 3 Republican Senators, has been working on this issue for several months, long before the current crisis arose. But a final agreement had never been reached and it appeared the Gang's effort had headed for the last roundup with some members even dropping out of negotiations.

But necessity is indeed the mother of (political) invention, and so the group apparently reconvened and put together a plan that (according to the WALL STREET JOURNAL, July 20) would shrink the deficit by $3.7 billion over the next decade while also raising the debt ceiling. It also changes the tax code, cutting taxes for $1.5 trillion over 10 years while it also ends some tax breaks adding an additional $1 trillion to government coffers in the next decades.

While this would seem to give a little something to all the squabbling parties in Washington, it is probably too complicated to be able to be passed before August 2, so the scramble may be how to put together enough of it to get the votes needed in both the House and the Senate to meet the early August debt ceiling deadline.

That means the proposal made originally by GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell could also be "resurrected" to allow the President to raise the debt limit on his own subject to a veto override in the Congress (which would be unlikely).

So far, reaction to these latest ideas seems to be somewhat positive President Obama said it was "broadly consistent with his own approach on how to address these issues. Even Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander who is number 3 in the Republican Senate leadership seems to like the plan. Alexander calls it: "…a serious, bi-partisan proposal that will help stop Washington from spending money we don't have, and I support it."

But of course the key to approving anything is likely getting enough Republican votes in the House. That includes Tea Party backers who helped the House pass a bill in recent days that would cut the budget, set up caps on future federal spending and approve a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget in the years ahead. That plan has no chance in the Senate (and was tabled on Friday in the upper chamber) It also would have faced a presidential veto if it had been approved by enough Senators.

So what happens now? It's hard to say, although interestingly, the "Gang of Six" proposal is not being rejected out of hand by GOP House leaders. According to the WALL STREET JOURNAL (July 20), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor "one of the party most combative conservatives, didn't dismiss the plan out of hand. "While there are still portions that are unclear and need more detail, this bipartisan plan does seem to include some constructive ideas to deal with out debt."

GOP House Speaker John Boehner is equally restrained in his comments so far. Through a spokesman he said: "This plan shares many similarities with the framework the speaker discussed with the president, but also appears to fall short in some important areas."

Speaker Boehner is also reportedly negotiating again with President Obama to resurrect their own "Grand Bargain" plan, this time to cut the budget by $3 billion over the next decade, with the spending cuts locked in while all the changes in tax breaks and other revenue-enhancing changes left to congress to figure out over the next year.

It is not likely Democrats will buy the process and they also have some qualms about the "Gang of Six" proposal, since it could mean cuts in both Medicare and Medicaid as well as changes in Social Security according to the WSJ. It also could mean changes in some of the most popular tax breaks including the interest mortgage deduction for homeowners, which is bound to bring out opposition.

Reportedly, 76% of the deficit reductions come from cuts while 26% come from new taxes. That seems to be line with recent public opinion which shows a large majorities of Americans want a mixture of budget cuts and tax hikes to address the budget deficit.

New polling (WSJ/ NBC NEWS) also shows a switch in public opinion about the debt ceiling with a plurality (38%) now saying it should be raised, while 31% say it should not. Last month those numbers were reversed with 39% opposing a debt limit increase and 28% saying it should.

Despite those poll numbers, there remains sharp disagreement within the Republican Party about what to do, and the knives are coming out. I see daily blast e-mail coming out from the Tea Party and other conservatives saying it is time to hold fast, cut the spending and leave the debt ceiling as it is. There are also suggestions in these e-mails that Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell may be selling out by offering or supporting compromises.

But there are others in the Republican Party who say the kind of budget-cutting deals Democrats are offering should be "the mother of no-brainers" with columnist David Brooks (writing in the NEW YORK TIMES adding "that the GOP may no longer be a normal party because it has put its anti-tax idealogy ahead of practical governing."

Brooks in particular calls out the ‘Beltway Bandits," including Grover Norquist, the Americans for Tax Reform, who has gotten many Republican lawmakers and candidates to sign a no-tax increase pledge.

Brooks is also criticizing conservative talk show hosts. According to a HUFF POST POLITICS story (July 19), he calls them "Big Government blowhards—who get ratings by firing up listeners with partisan rhetoric."

The article says Brook is also criticizing "show horses such as Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman who produce tweets, not law along with permanent campaigners in Congress who care more about getting re-elected than they do about governing."

Wow! Can the Republicans come together to support any compromise? And can the party survive this widening internal feud over what seems to be the heart and soul of what GOP is all about?

Meanwhile the country is down to less than two weeks until the August 2 deadline when the nation faces default because it won't be authorized to pay its debt.

And there continue to be a lot of proposals being floated and debate, there is not a consensus for any of them.

MAYOR DEAN ON INSIDE POLITICS

With his re-election victory in the August 4 Metro elections all but assured (all over but the counting actually), you might wonder if I have much to ask about when Mayor Karl Dean visits us on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend.

Believe it or not, I have more topics than ever, starting with the Fairgrounds charter amendment on the ballot as well as the Mayor's involvement in any other Metro races both for the August 4 voting and the council runoff races to come in September. There are also his priorities for a second term, particularly in the area of Metro Schools as well as potential plans for a new AAA baseball park, a downtown amphitheatre and some new mass transits options.

We'll also talk about Metro's emerging problems with the actions of some our elected Clerks at the Metro Courthouse and the surprising loss of 900 new jobs coming downtown from a New York-based firm that now seems suddenly gone with the wind.

And there are plenty of other topics to discuss, including Metro's future revenue and tax needs going forward. A major ratings agency (Moody's) recently gave the city a negative outlook about that. The firm is concerned about the size of Metro's revenue reserves, its continuing subsidy to the Metro Hospital Authority and the possible need to have a public referendum to get a property tax rate increase.

We will try and talk about all these matters. That is, if we can somehow work it all in with just a half-hour show.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes Sunday morning at 5 a.m. on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NewsChannel5. We are also shown on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS which airs on Comcast & Charter cable channels 250 as well as Channel 5's 5.2 over-the-air digital channel. Our show times on THE PLUS are 7:00 p.m., Friday; 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m. Saturday; and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m., Sunday.

Don't forget (if you don't have cable or live outside the Nashville area) you can also see excerpts from previous INSIDE POLITICS shows here at newschannel5.com.

FROM OUTSIDE THE DISTRICT

The race for the 24th District Metro Council seat in West Nashville continues to be unlike any other in city history. Not only is it likely to be the most expensive council election on record (with both candidates raising over $100,000 combined, so far), we now have a very unusual, if not unprecedented action taken by a neighborhood group from outside the district trying to interject itself into the race.

Neighbors For Progress, a group of residents near the State Fairgrounds (and which supports Mayor Dean and his plans to redevelop that area) have sent out a mailer to voters in the 24th District. The flyer says: "Mayor Karl Dean had a plan to create a better quality of life in our neighborhood…But Councilman Jason Holleman stood in the way." It adds that voters should call Holleman and urge him to "quit listening to special interests" and support the Mayor's plans.

Holleman told THE CITY PAPER (July 19) that the mailer is a "mischaracterization" of his successful efforts to get the Council to hold off tearing down the Raceway at the Fairgrounds and instead defer any action on the entire Fairgrounds property until a master plan study is done.

The mailer does not mention the upcoming August 4 election, Holleman's opponent, Sarah Lodge Talley, or even the charter amendment on the ballot to require a super-majority vote (27) of the Metro Council to change the Fairgrounds and/or its present activities. Going there might have put the neighborhood group into some legal issues. But, much like the TV ads you often now see from outside groups in many political campaigns these days, it is pretty clear what the intent of the mailer is in terms of being anti-Holleman.

And it's not just an outside neighborhood group stepping into the 24th District. Mayor Dean has sent out his own endorsement mailer for Talley. He is also getting involved to support candidates in both the 28th and 33rd districts in South Nashville, where other current incumbents have also been at odds with His Honor over issues such as the State Fairgrounds. It is not terribly unusual for an incumbent Mayor to get involved in council races, but it does raise the stakes.

If Mayor Dean is not successful in electing Sarah Lodge Talley, Tanaka Vercher and Page Turner, he faces the likelihood of re-elected council members such as Jason Holleman, Duane Dominy and Robert Duvall who will be even more hostile to working with him during the upcoming council term.

A couple of other campaign trail development to note: For the first time I can even remember, in the open council race in District 18, Burkley Allen has raised enough money to run TV ads. Targeting her message through cable, her campaign claims she can do the spots and not waste money talking to voters who can't help her (can't vote) because they live outside the district if not outside the county and the state. We'll see how it works.

As for early voting, not so many so far

Only 12,500 folks have come out in the first six days of early balloting (through Thursday, July 21). That's compared to 48,000 plus who voted early in the August Metro elections four years ago. With eight more days to go, it looks like we will reach maybe as high as 30,000 this time in early balloting. With the early vote now accounting for about half the total vote it looks like maybe 55,000 to 60,000 ballots to count when all is said and done, which is well less than the 100,000 plus vote total of August, 2007.

But don't feel too bad about that. Turnout is always low when there is no heavily contested mayor's race. And this election is sure no 2007 in that regard.

ROLE REVERSAL

It's the heat of the summer…the legislature has gone home…the next state elections aren't until August, 2012 over a year from now.

So what do state party leaders have to fight about these days?

How about raising money at the Governor's Mansion…aka…what was called Bredesen's Bunker when it was constructed a couple of years ago? According to an article by Andy Sher of CHATTANOOGA TIMES-FREE PRESS (July 20) Governor Bill Haslam held a fundraiser there to benefit the Tennessee Republican Party earlier in the spring.

Democrats call it a "shakedown" of lobbyists, businesses and others because it was held during the legislative session which is a time when lawmakers aren't allowed to raise campaign funds. But GOP leaders point out their fundraiser was legal since this was money raised for the party not for individual lawmakers. State regulators agree, with Drew Rollins, the Executive Director of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance telling THE TIMES-FREE PRESS: "You can do that all day long."

But don't you find it a bit humorous how the roles have been reversed? Here we have Republicans defending their use of the "Bunker" for a party fundraiser even though several GOP lawmakers swore they would never use it or even step foot in it during the controversy when it was being built under the previous Democratic administration. You also have Democrats criticizing the GOP governor for using the new facilities at the mansion, which Governor Bredesen used as well to raise political funds. Although in fairness he did his fund raisers outside legislative sessions.

Speaking of money, state revenues continue to rise above projections. So State Democratic legislative leaders are already offering up their ideas for how "the surplus" should be used…to lower the sales tax on food and give more college scholarships.

Don't look for that plan to get very far. First, because of the Republican dominance of state government (Governor, State House, State Senate) they have the votes to decide how to parcel out any extra money not the Democrats. Also while collections are up, they are still well below what the state used to pull in a few years back, and given the fragile nature of the economy nobody's sure what the future holds.

So while spending a surplus to lower the sales tax on food (which is way too high) and giving scholarships to needy college students sure sounds good, this rhetoric likely has more to do with the campaign battles next fall for control of the General Assembly and not much about any real change coming in state public policy.

GOOD CONSTITUENT SERVICES OR NOT

When the words "TBI investigation" come up in the news these days (and they seem to quite a bit), reporters and political observers get very interested.

Such was the case in recent days when it was revealed that the actions of a couple of Republican East Tennessee lawmakers are being looked into regarding their actions to help a constituent get her nursing license back.

Was this a case of legislators doing their jobs to help out those they represent? Or since this is also involved in "sunset legislation" to continue the board that oversees this matter, did lawmakers step over the line and use their influence inappropriately?

That will obviously be something for the TBI to decide. Sunset legislation was enacted a few years ago to make sure that state agencies and board and commissions are reviewed from time to time to make sure they are still appropriate and needed.

But does the General Assembly and its leadership need to take a look that the sunset process to make sure it is doing what it is intended to do? Does it have enough safeguards built in to keep it from becoming a "hostage taking" process, something which Governor Haslam mentioned the other day when he told reporters he didn't like people advancing their own personal agendas?"

NASHVILLE ICONS SAVED

What a difference a reconfigured lease makes.

In recent days thanks to new deals, two Nashville icons, the Elliston Place Soda Shop (operating for more than 70 years) and the Musicians Hall of Fame (uprooted by the construction of the new downtown convention center), will continue to be in our city.

Given their unique status as a part of our city's culture and history, could you imagine them being anywhere else?

Challenges remain for both the Soda Shop and the Musicians Hall of Fame to be successful going forward. But at least there is now a chance. Congratulations to those who found a way to make it happen.

HITCHHIKER

A child growing up in the 1960s, manned space exploration was one of the most exciting things I can remember. Heck, anything that got us out of class was usually OK with me, but I really enjoyed watching all the TV coverage from Alan Shepard's first Mercury flight through the Apollo landings on the moon.

I will admit as I have gotten older, I didn't pay as much attention to the more frequent and sometimes almost routine Space Shuttle missions. Unfortunately, tragedy would remind me from time to time how brave these ladies and gentlemen were as astronauts putting their lives on the line advancing our frontiers in space exploration.

So I can't help but feel very sad to see the last Shuttle mission come to an end, not knowing when, or even if, America will continue to lead in this important effort regarding future manned space flight.

While I know the manned space program is very expensive in a time when money is very tight, it bothers me to see this country as the Leader of the Free World, now demoted to being hitchhikers in space, bumming (expensive) rides to the International Space Station with our former space race competitor, the Russians, and maybe soon the Chinese.

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