Did T-Mac just hand northern Arlington to the Republicans?

July 14, 2014

For obvious reasons, the more watched of the two special elections to take place on the 19th of August will be the State Senate election in Southwest Virginia. Control of the State Senate depends upon that outcome. However, the other race – for a House of Delegate seat in northern Arlington and (mostly) McLean – could provide an upset, thanks in no small part to Governor McAuliffe himself.

Late last week, the Guv decided to offer a financial lifeline to the problematic (and very controversial) Arlington trolley (Washington Post):

Virginia will increase state funding for the controversial Columbia Pike streetcar project by up to $65 million, the state transportation chief told officials in Arlington and Fairfax counties this week, allowing the streetcar line to be built at least a year faster and without federal funds.

Reaction to this has largely agreed with Norm Leahy‘s: “A less charitable view would say that the Governor’s office has done a solid for its folks in Arlington…” Except it’s not that simple.

The Columbia Pike trolley was a symbol of government incompetence and arrogance when John Vihstadt used it to break the Democrats’ monopoly on the County Board in last spring’s special election, and just in case anyone thought the issue had died down…(back to the WaPo):

Vihstadt said the state rushed to respond to the funding request that Fisette and Bulova made a month ago. “Had the Commonwealth done its homework, it would have learned that a modified form of bus rapid transit could be implemented much more cheaply, more quickly, with greater regional connectivity,” Vihstadt said in a statement.

Oops.

So how would this impact the 48th District special election? Well, for starters, the trolley would parallel Columbia Pike, which runs through southern Arlington. The 48th, by contrast, is anchored in northern Arlington, which would suffer the costs of the trolley without the benefits. Lest you, dear reader, think I’m reading too much into this, I went through the election data from the April special election, and found the following.

  • Overall results: Vihstadt (I, R-endorsed) 57%, Howze (D) 41%
  • Precincts in 48th District: Vihstadt 65%, Howze 35%

In fact, Vihstadt’s advantage in the 48th was nearly triple that outside it (55%-43%).

Meanwhile, Republican nominee David Foster “said his first order of business if elected would be to introduce legislation allowing voters in Arlington to hold a referendum on the Columbia Pike streetcar project” (Inside Nova).

In other words, Governor T-Mac just dumped $65 million worth of fuel on a fire that has already burned local Democrats, and that Foster is making a key issue in the campaign.

Keep a close eye on northern Arlington, folks.

Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon


Egregious Ex-Im Deal of the Day

July 12, 2014

I basically copied and pasted the title from Veronique de Rugy, who got it herself from the Blog of the House Financial Services Committee – where Chairman Jeb Hensarling is leading the fight against the Export-Import Bank.

The Bank’s defenders insist that it’s all about helping American exporters, but they largely ignore the fact that most of the exports are intermediate products, which foreigners get with discounted loans from market rates. Thus, these firms have a leg up in competition against their American counterparts. The largest (and loudest) victim of this is Delta Airlines, which much compete with a slew of foreign airlines that get Ex-Im funded deals on Boeing airplanes that aren’t available to the American firm.

Lest anyone think this is the only example of Ex-Im run amok, the HFSC began daily highlights of the Bank’s loans. The first one was yesterday (I’m assuming they’ll continue on Monday). Here was the “Egregious Ex-Im Bank Deal of the Day” (HFSC, emphasis in original):

Hardworking American taxpayers, who are paying more for gas (“Gasoline prices at six-year high – AAA”) and “more for almost everything this year” (CNBC), might be wondering why President Obama refuses to approve the Keystone Pipeline but is using their tax dollars to finance foreign corporate welfare — like the nearly $5 billion in direct loans to help build a venture developed by Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company.

This is the same Saudi Aramco, by the way, that one report this week said is “pulling the rug out from under the U.S. gas industry” and has announced plans to spend its money to build 11 45,000-seat capacity stadiums by order of King Abdullah.

Here are the deal details:

In 2012, the Ex-Im Bank provided a record-breaking $4.975 billion in direct loans to help build Sadara Chemical Company, developed by the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco). Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia, is the world’s biggest oil company, with total assets reportedly in the trillions. – (Sources:  Export-Import Bank press release, 4/4/13:  “Sadara Chemical Company Transaction is Awarded Ex-Im Bank Deal of the Year”;Saudi AramcoForbesUniversity of Texas)

Please note the description of Saudi Aramco – the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia. Are we really supposed to believe that they needed Ex-Im’s help for financing?

Reminder: Senator Mark Warner joined all of his fellow Democrats in voting for the Ex-Im Bank’s reauthorization in 2012 (vote). His Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, has called for it to be shut down.

Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon


Ed Gillespie says GOP “learned a lesson,” then proves it by opposing Ex-Im Bank

July 9, 2014

Roughly a month after he earned the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, Ed Gillespie – consummate Establishment man – spoke to Rick Sincere (a.k.a., the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner) about his campaign going forward. He addressed head on complaints about his former employer, President George W. Bush (emphasis added).

“The difference between Republicans and Democrats,” he told the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner at Claudius Crozet Park, “is, I think, Republicans have learned a lesson.”

Continuing, he noted that “the fact is, I agree that when Republicans had the House, the Senate, and the White House that we spent too much money.”

That experience from the first decade of the 21st century, he added, “pales in comparison to what the Democrats did when they got control of all three – the House, the Senate, and the White House – but that’s not enough.”

What was far more important, however, was Ed’s first example of a government program that needs to go:

One (program) that I have said already that I believe should not be reauthorized and doesn’t deserve to be continued in funding is the ExIm Bank.

If Gillespie has talked about winding down Ex-Im, I missed it, but that’s my problem, not Ed’s.

The point is this: Ed Gillespie’s willingness to put the “Bank of Boeing” on the chopping block is a sign he really has “learned a lesson” about the Republican Party’s mistakes. For a fellow of his Establishment pedigree to openly oppose the Bank is an excellent sign.

I had my concerns (driven by TARP) about Gillespie before the nomination, but he is the party standard bearer now, and more importantly, his opposition to Ex-Im reveals that he does indeed know the party needs to go in an anti-corporatist direction.

Good for him, good for the Republican Party, and very good for Virginia.

Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon


Hobby Lobby wins, but the rest of us already lost

June 30, 2014

The Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby cannot in fact be forced to pay for abortifacent coverage for its employees after all. Last I checked (about an hour ago) Facebook was just beginning to pile up its usual combination of delight and outrage. By the time you see this, dear reader, it will certainly be in full bloom.

Yet I can’t help but feel anti-climactic about it all, for the “contraception mandate” has problems far, far deeper than this – problems that have been completely lost in the culture battle.

Somehow, with hardly a whimper of objection, we all supposedly acquiesced in the notion that the government can and should force firms to provide a service to their employees (contraception insurance); that said service must have a price ceiling; and that said price ceiling must be zero.

Forget religious objections; anyone who believes in a genuinely free market should be appalled at this kind of intervention.

For those upset about employers having any influence on birth control availability, I have news for you: they’d rather not be involved either. This is the result of earlier distortions – starting with Congress making health insurance a deductible expense for firms, but providing no such deduction or credit for individuals, combined with the requirement that birth control require a prescription. Addressing either would make it easier to leave the employer just where (s)he would rather be – out of this discussion.

Instead, we get the “mandate,” which makes a distorted market even more distorted, vaporizes the incentive to buy generic birth control…and thus leads to the real purpose in my view – a nice payoff to Big Pharma for its heavy lifting in getting the Patently Deficient and Unaffordably Careless Act through Congress in the first place.

In short, this was simply 21st Century corporatism by another name, and thanks to everyone’s eagerness to fight the Kulturkampf, Big Business and Big Government got away with it…again.

So while I’m glad Hobby Lobby won, the simple fact is that the rest of us (save Big Pharma) already lost.

Cross-posted to Bearing Drift


New House Majority Leader: Kill Ex-Im Bank

June 23, 2014

The primary defeat of Eric Cantor continues to reverberate in unexpected ways, as his incoming successor as Majority Leader tells Fox News that he supports shutting down the Export-Import Bank (Washington Examiner):

On “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace asked McCarthy if he agrees with “conservatives who say that the Export-Import Bank is a form of crony capitalism and it should be put out of business — allowed to expire.”

McCarthy responded by tying Ex-Im to “one of the biggest problems with government,” using taxpayers’ “hard-earned money,” to do things the private sector can do. McCarthy supported Ex-Im’s reauthorization in 2012, but he argued on Fox News Sunday that this was a vote to “wind down the Ex-Im Bank.”

Wallace put the question more directly: “You would allow the Ex-Im Bank to expire in September?”

McCarthy immediately said “Yes. Because it’s something that the private sector can be able to do.”

That’s a dramatic change in view from Cantor, and a refreshing one. If McCarthy is serious about it (and that bizarre explanation for his 2012 vote should give us some pause), it would strike a strong blow against corporatism.

Ex-Im’s defenders have three months to save their special interest, and they will throw everything including the kitchen sink to do so. McCarthy’s stance is to be praised, and we should help him hold his newfound ground.


The Virginia Medicaid battle is suspended, but not over

June 10, 2014

Based on the Richmond Times-Dispatch report, a budget deal is in sight (via Bull Elephant):

The Senate will convene Thursday to enact a two-year state budget that will have about $700 million less in new spending than when the General Assembly adjourned its regular session March 8 without approving a budget because of a bitter political battle over expanding health insurance coverage.

To hear Medicaid expansion backers tell it, everybody was willing to pass a “clean” budget, and came to that conclusion just last week. Never mind the whole Puckett resignation fracas. Take that as you will.

However, the battle over Medicaid expansion is not over. It will likely continue to be fought in the General Assembly (either in this special session or a new special session), and lest anyone forget, Medicaid expansion still has the support of 22 senators.

In other words, we need to continue to make the argument that Medicaid expansion is bad for the state, bad for taxpayers, and terrible for its would-be beneficiaries.

House Speaker Bill Howell et al have done decent work keeping this nonsense at bay so far. They deserve our thanks, but we also deserve, and expect, that they keep up the fight.

Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon


State Senator Phil Puckett resigns; deck chairs on Titanic to be re-arranged

June 9, 2014

Richmond is all agog over the resignation of State Senate Phil Puckett (Richmond Times-Dispatch), which grants the Republicans a temporary majority in the State Senate, pending a special election which the Republicans are favored to win. According to the RTD, Puckett’s resignation paves the way for his daughter to be elected to a judgeship, while he himself could land on the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.

All eyes (in Richmond) went immediately to the budget, where according to the Constitution (emphasis added):

No bill which creates or establishes a new office, or which creates, continues, or revives a debt or charge, or which makes, continues, or revives any appropriation of public or trust money or property, or which releases, discharges, or commutes any claim or demand of the Commonwealth, or which imposes, continues, or revives a tax, shall be passed except by the affirmative vote of a majority of all the members elected to each house, the name of each member voting and how he voted to be recorded in the journal.

Normally, that means 21 out of 40. Given that we only have 39 at the moment, 20 should actually work…for the State Senate to pass the budget until the special election. In the grand scheme of things, though, there is a lot less than meets the eye. Here’s why.

First, not every Republican State Senator supported the Republican budget: Walter Stosch (Dave Brat’s patron), John Watkins, and Emmett Hanger all voted with the Democrats to add Medicaid expansion to the budget. In theory, party unity could convince them to change their minds, but there’s no guarantee of that.

Second, there is still the Governor: If one wanted to hand Terry McAuliffe the perfect excuse for a budget veto, coaxing a Senator’s resignation with the promise of appointments for himself and his daughter would be it. I’ll admit, a veto is unlikely, but this deal is excellent ammunition for Election Day 2014, 2015, and 2017.

Speaking of…

Third, even if the GOP wins the budget battle, the fight of Medicaid will go on, and this will make it harder to win: According to Christopher Newport University (poll), the Republicans were actually winning the debate on Medicaid expansion. That might, and probably will, change if T-Mac can now claim perfidy from the opposition. This allows Terry McAuliffe – Terry F–king McAuliffe - to run as Mr. Clean, and the Democrats to present themselves as the Clean Team in 2015 and 2017.

Odds are this will even damage our recent nominee for U.S. Senate – Ed Gillespie, the consummate Virginia Republican insider.

We may even see the Republicans cave on Medicaid expansion just to neutralize the issue in 2015.

Fourth, the State Senate is the poisoned chalice of recent times. Let’s say the GOP does win the special election and holds all 21 seats next year, which I’ll admit is still likely despite the above (or because of the previous sentence). Let’s take a look at the fate of the party controlling the state senate after the last six midterm elections (1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011). In all six cases, the party lost the ensuing gubernatorial election. In five of them, they lost House seats and a majority of the statewide races. In three, they lost all statewide races, and in two they lost the senate itself.

Now, one could say even that might be worth it if a Republican Senate would mean greater momentum for limited government, but that just isn’t so…

Every Republican-controlled State Senate in the 21st Century has enacted a tax increase: That’s right; there was the referendum of 2002 (defeated by the voters), the Warner tax hike of 2004 (which, at $1.5 billion, was only half what the State Senate originally wanted), HB3202 (largely overturned by the courts), and Plan ’13 From Outer Space. If anything, it has been minority status that forces Republicans to behave.

Given all of the above, I can’t help thinking that this victory is meager, if not pyrrhic.

Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon


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