Naughty Judd Gregg made money off earmarks

Thanks to New Hampshire blogger Dean Barker I learned something new today about Senator Judd Gregg. According to the Associated Press,

President Barack Obama’s former nominee to become commerce secretary, Sen. Judd Gregg, steered taxpayer money to his home state’s redevelopment of a former Air Force base even as he and his brother engaged in real estate deals there, an Associated Press investigation found.

Gregg, R-N.H., personally has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Cyrus Gregg’s office projects at the Pease International Tradeport, a Portsmouth business park built at the defunct Pease Air Force Base, once home to nuclear bombers. Judd Gregg has collected at least $240,017 to $651,801 from his investments there, Senate records show, while helping arrange at least $66 million in federal aid for the former base.

Sadly, this isn’t unprecedented or even the most egregious example of members of Congress profiting from earmarks. Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert sold real estate for nearly $2 million in profits after he secured federal earmarks to construct the Prairie Parkway near land he owned.

What looks corrupt in politics turns out to be legal more often than not, and that seems to be the case here. The AP says Senate ethics rules do not permit senators to direct earmarks to projects “solely” in order to benefit themselves or their family members financially, but of course Gregg could point to all kinds of benefits from redeveloping the former base.

“I am absolutely sure that in every way I’ve complied with the ethics rules of the Senate both literally and in their spirit relative to any investment that I’ve made anywhere,” Gregg told the AP. “These earmarks do not benefit me in any way, shape, manner financially, personally or in any other manner other than the fact that I’m a citizen of New Hampshire.”

Still, one wonders whether this story prompted Gregg to withdraw his nomination for Commerce Secretary. Whatever his reasons, we’re better off without him.

Members of Congress should stick to the usual form of legalized corruption and only seek earmarks that would personally profit their large campaign contributors.

No one raises ethical concerns about that behavior. As a bonus, donors who stand to gain from the earmarks may go the extra mile during the incumbent’s next tough campaign.

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Open thread on Obama's 2010 budget and cabinet

President Barack Obama will present his first budget request to Congress today.

Early leaks indicate that he will propose some tax increases on the wealthiest Americans as well as some spending cuts to help pay for health care reform.

Ezra Klein, an excellent blogger on health care, is excited about what’s in the budget regarding health care reform. Although there is no detailed plan, Obama is submitting eight principles that should define health care reform efforts. Klein believes the principle of “universality” is likely to lead Congress to propose an individual mandate to hold health insurance.

I support mandated coverate only if there is a public plan that any American, regardless of age and income, can purchase as an alternative to private health insurance. The public plan would work like Medicare, in that individuals would be able to choose their own providers. Unfortunately, the Massachusetts model of mandatory private insurance without a meaningful public option has left a lot of problems unsolved.

It is not clear how much Obama will do to roll back George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. I am with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others who would prefer to start rolling back tax cuts for the top 1 percent immediately. Last month the president seemed to be leaning toward letting those tax cuts expire over the next two years rather than fighting to repeal them this year.

According to Bloomberg,

President Barack Obama’s first budget request would provide as much as $750 billion in new aid to the financial industry […]

No wonder Obama went out of his way to make the case for helping banks during his address to Congress on Tuesday night. I firmly oppose shelling out another $750 billion toward this end, especially since the bailout money we’ve already spent hasn’t accomplished the stated goals of the program.

According to AFP, today’s budget proposal will include a plan

to raise money through a mandatory cap on greenhouse emissions.

Obama’s budget director Peter Orszag earlier estimated that a cap-and-trade scheme could generate 112 billion dollars by 2012, and up to 300 billion dollars a year by 2020.

Cap-and-trade may be more politically palatable, but a carbon tax may be a better approach for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

In cabinet-related news, have calculated that expanding the food-stamp program

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar wasn’t the top choice of environmentalists, but I was pleased to read this post:

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar canceled oil shale development leases on Federal lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and announced that the Interior Department would first study the water, power and land-use issues surrounding the development oil shale.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary wants to review US Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and told Congress that employers should be the focus of raids seeking to enforce immigration laws at workplaces. Obviously, swooping in and arresting a bunch of undocumented workers does nothing to address the root of the problem if employers are not forced to change their hiring practice.

Yesterday Obama named former Washington Governor Gary Locke as his latest choice to run the Commerce Department. Locke seems like a business-friendly Democrat, which is a big improvement over conservative Republican Judd Gregg, who thankfully withdrew his nomination for this post.

Republicans have been freaking out because of alleged plans by the Obama administration to “take control of the census.” Of course the GOP wants to continue the practices that have caused millions of white Americans to be double-counted in past censuses while millions more Americans in urban centers (largely non-whites) were not counted at all. Click here for more on the political battle over the census.

This thread is for any thoughts or comments about Obama’s cabinet or budget.

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Solis (finally) confirmed as Labor Secretary

Senate Republicans finally gave up on obstructing Hilda Solis’ nomination as Secretary of Labor today, and the Senate easily confirmed her by an 80 to 17 vote. Chuck Grassley was among the 24 Republicans who voted to confirm Solis. Tom Harkin did not vote but clearly would have voted yes, along with all the other Democrats, had he been in the chamber.

Solis’ confirmation was tied up for weeks in committee after Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming put an anonymous hold on her nomination. Today even he voted yes, indicating that he had no solid grounds for blocking her from serving in the cabinet. I suspect Enzi was just trying to see whether he could trick Barack Obama into withdrawing her nomination as a gesture to Republicans.

Solis’s staunch longtime support for organized labor will make her a target for the right-wing noise machine, but who cares?

For more on why Solis is one of Obama’s best appointments so far, read this piece by Meteor Blades and this one by Paul Rosenberg, who notes,

People just loved talking about what a great political leader Hilda Solis is. I didn’t have nearly enough room to include all the good stuff that was said.

Calitics takes a first stab at handicapping the special election in California’s 32nd district, which Solis is vacating. It’s a safe Democratic seat but will have a competitive primary.

Obama has two cabinet positions left to fill. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius appears to be the leading candidate for Health and Human Services now, and former Washington Governor Gary Locke is reportedly Obama’s pick for Commerce.  

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Gregg out at Commerce--Whom should Obama appoint?

Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire withdrew his name from consideration for Commerce Secretary in Barack Obama’s cabinet today. Politico posted the statement from Gregg’s office. Excerpt:

I want to thank the President for nominating me to serve in his Cabinet as Secretary of Commerce. This was a great honor, and I had felt that I could bring some views and ideas that would assist him in governing during this difficult time. I especially admire his willingness to reach across the aisle.

However, it has become apparent during this process that this will not work for me as I have found that on issues such as the stimulus package and the Census there are irresolvable conflicts for me. Prior to accepting this post, we had discussed these and other potential differences, but unfortunately we did not adequately focus on these concerns. We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.

Obviously the President requires a team that is fully supportive of all his initiatives. […]

As a further matter of clarification, nothing about the vetting process played any role in this decision. I will continue to represent the people of New Hampshire in the United States Senate.

One wonders why Gregg only noticed today that his views on economic stimulus and the census would impede his effectiveness as a cabinet member. (The U.S. Census Bureau is part of the Commerce Department.)

Despite the last paragraph of Gregg’s statement, you have to wonder whether something popped up in the vetting process here.

Whatever his reasons, I welcome the news and hope that the third time will be the charm for President Obama as he tries to fill this position.

This thread is for any comments or speculation about why Gregg dropped out and who should replace him at Commerce. I don’t want the job to go to another conservative or another Republican.

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News flash: personnel shape policy

When Barack Obama nominated Timothy Geithner for Treasury Secretary and appointed Larry Summers to be the chief presidential economics adviser, I became very worried. Summers had a hand in some of Bill Clinton’s deregulation policies that have contributed to our current economic problems, and Geithner was a key architect of the Wall Street bailout last fall.

Here and at other blogs, some commenters urged me to “give Obama a chance–he hasn’t even been inaugurated yet.”

Geithner confirmed my worst fears today when he rolled out the new-and-improved bailout plan (using the second $350 billion tranche from the Troubled Assets Relief Program). Economist James Galbraith came up with the name Bad Assets Relief Fund (BARF) to describe Geithner’s plan.

Other bloggers have already explained why Geithner’s proposal is an unimaginably pricey gift to Wall Street bankers at the expense of the public interest. This diary by MyDD user bobswern hits all the main points, drawing on a front-page story in the New York Times and other sources.

Writing about how Geithner prevailed over presidential advisers like David Axelrod, who wanted to attach more strings to the taxpayer money Wall Street bankers would receive, David Sirota observed,

Interestingly, the divide inside the administration seems to hearken back to a divide discussed very early on in the formation of the administration – the one whereby progressives were put in strictly political positions, and zombie conservatives were put in the policymaking positions. In this case, more progressive politicos like Axelrod was overruled by corporate cronies like Geithner.

The good news is that at least there seems to be something of a debate inside the administration, however tepid. The bad news is what I and others predicted: namely, that progressives seem to have been ghettoized into the political/salesmanship jobs, the conservative zombies shaping policy aren’t interested in having any debate with them. Worse, we’re now learning that those zombies are as rigidly ideological as their initial policies seemed to suggest.

I stand by my prediction that Geithner will turn out to be one of Barack Obama’s worst appointments. I can’t fathom why Obama wants to “own” the very worst aspects of the Bush administration’s failed Wall Street bailout, while also depriving the government of cash needed for other domestic priorities.

The stock market fell sharply today, perhaps because investors have no confidence in Geithner’s scheme and perhaps because the compromise stimulus bill that passed the U.S. Senate came straight out of bizarro world (do click that link, you’ll enjoy it).

I hope Obama will recognize his mistake and let Geithner and Summers go within a year or so, but they’re already poised to do plenty of damage to his administration.

Speaking of bad appointments, isn’t it amazing that Obama didn’t even make Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire promise to vote for the stimulus bill in exchange for being named Commerce Secretary? Why would you put someone in a cabinet position with influence over economic policy if that person doesn’t even support the president’s stimulus plan?

Apparently Obama’s also considering making a lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce the main presidential adviser on judicial appointments. I’ve long anticipated that judges appointed by Obama would be corporate-friendly, pro-choice moderates in the Stephen Breyer mode, but I never imagined that a Chamber of Commerce lobbyist would be in a position to recommend only judges who would favor business interests.

If Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen becomes Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Obama-Biden magnet is coming off my car.

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Update on cabinet appointments and confirmations

The Senate confirmed Eric Holder as attorney general today by a vote of 75-21. Both Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley voted yes, as expected. I always thought Holder would be confirmed, but I am pleasantly surprised that he was approved by a larger majority than Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. I believe Holder will turn out to be one of President Barack Obama’s better cabinet appointments.

For reasons I cannot fathom, Obama appears ready to appoint Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, a conservative Republican, as Secretary of Commerce. Chris Bowers concisely explains why this is an awful choice:

So, for some reason, in the wake of total Republican intransigence on the stimulus bill, the Obama administration will respond by putting a Republican in charge of one the federal departments overseeing the economy. Judd Gregg himself has said he will oppose the stimulus package. That is certainly an, um, interesting way for the Obama administration to incentivize Republican opposition. Oppose President Obama, and he will reward you by giving you a cabinet position.

It is worth noting what sort of ideas Judd Gregg has for the economy: a commission of center-right insiders operating in secret and circumventing Congress in order to destroy Social Security and Medicare.

Senate Republicans continue to hold up Hilda Solis’s confirmation as Labor Secretary, and Obama responds by appointing Gregg to the cabinet?

Democrats won’t even get a Senate seat out of the deal, because the Democratic governor of New Hampshire has promised to appoint a Republican to serve out Gregg’s term. The only upside is that the appointee may be easier to beat in 2010 than longtime incumbent Gregg would have been. But that’s not worth handing over control of the Commerce Department to a conservative, in my opinion.

All I can say is, Gregg better not screw around with the Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In a dispatch from bizarro world, Politico’s David Rogers still isn’t convinced that Obama is serious about bipartisanship, even though Gregg will become the third Republican in his cabinet and will be replaced by a Republican in the Senate:

Obama, while talking a good game about bipartisanship, is draining the Senate of the very talent he needs to achieve this goal.

If only Obama were merely “talking a good game about bipartisanship.”

Speaking of Senate Republicans, Kagro X put up a good post on prospects for a filibuster of the economic stimulus bill, and Chris Bowers posted a “whip count” here, concluding that

Overall, it seems highly likely that the stimulus will pass without Republicans forcing major changes. However, given the narrow margins, this is not a guarantee.

The Senate will likely vote on the bill on Wednesday. Grassley has already spoken out against what he calls the “stimulus/porkulus bill.”

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