Unite people behind bold ideas
In July, I spent a half-day with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, first in Grand Rapids and then on a farm in Ottawa County.
When asked by friends for my impression of Kasich, my first answer is irrepressible energy — energy of ideas and energy to absorb. He has not slowed a minute from his days in Congress decades earlier. Congress united behind bold ideas!
It was said Teddy Roosevelt was a locomotive in human pants. Always moving, always learning. He once wrote, “If you could kick the person responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”
Like Gov. Rick Snyder, Roosevelt felt blaming others was a waste of time. He was politically fearless, but he was also interested in understanding his political opposition. It was through his thirst for answers — his interest in human beings and their life challenges — that he gained his reputation as a doer. And “do” he did, from state legislator, to police commissioner, to Navy secretary, governor, vice president and president.
Five generations later, our politics and governing process are no less volatile or rough and tumble, but we are flailing. Take our current state of affairs. It was back to the classroom as Congress returned to Washington and into session after Labor Day, and its first report card was due very soon.
The leaderships of both parties are being tested by their electoral base for not caving in to the opposition on a series of votes and procedural maneuvers this fall, and the first test will be the FY16 Department of Defense Appropriations bill. The House passed its version in June but Senate Republicans will have difficulty getting their version passed with an extra $39 billion above so-called “sequestration” limits. Democrats may filibuster this critical appropriations bill if a dollar-for-dollar commensurate increase is not provided to non-defense discretionary programs.
Another test is the likelihood of a government shutdown if the FY16 spending bills are delayed without at least a stop-gap continuing resolution to keep the government running. While the House has passed half of the 12 appropriations bills for FY16, the Senate has yet to pass any spending bills.
Add the very likely scenario that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, will introduce an amendment to block all funding for Planned Parenthood clinics. The Republican base sees this as essential, as they have repeatedly given failed grades to its party’s leadership for its perceived ineffectiveness over everything from immigration and Iran policy. This may seem like an easy “A” for a party with control of both chambers, but the hard lessons of the shutdown two years ago may come back to haunt Republicans as Democrats filibuster any attempt at getting a vote on defunding Planned Parenthood.
If they are able to make it through that class unscathed, they will face a vote on the debt limit extension. Some members of Congress have already pledged to vote against any extension on the debt, but it is sure to be problematic for the GOP in light of its likely impact on already shaky markets. Then there are the tax extenders like the Research and Experimentation tax credit that is important to West Michigan. House leaders want to make that permanent, but deficit hawks and liberal think tanks complain it would cost $177 billion over 10 years at the expense of the Earned Income and Child Care tax credits. Annual extenders bills are usually passed at the end of the year without offsets, but this time the White House will veto any permanent extenders packages deemed unpaid for.
It remains to be seen who will get passing grades and who will face “academic suspension,” but recent history shows Congress gets an “incomplete” when it takes on these thorny spending issues. What is certain is the current Congressional budget/appropriations battles will surely be evaluated more closely.
My short time with Gov. Kasich reminded me of my time as a House staffer. I may have been spoiled then, witnessing the legislative process work, hammering out highway bills, passing measures that provided the best equipment to our military personnel, all the while finding a path toward balancing the budget. The legislative process was mean and messy and the product wasn’t perfect, but we set a positive trajectory.
Today, a handful of lawmakers seek 100 percent purity and immediate change. That’s not possible and it is ridiculous to think otherwise. The doers of our time — Bush, Christie, Kasich, Rubio — know this. They’ve been in the legislative trenches and toiled and failed, as well as succeeded. They governed. They unite people behind their bold ideas.
Roosevelt would be pleased.
Grand Rapids native Steve Carey is president of Potomac Strategic Development Co. in Washington, D.C.