House News, Opinion

An Open Letter To Paul Ryan

ryan

“Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.” June 7, 2016

“I am sickened by what I heard today. Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified.” October 7, 2016

“I do not think a Muslim ban is in our country’s interest. I do not think it is reflective of our principles, not just as a party but as a country.” June 14, 2016

Freedom of religion’s a fundamental constitutional principle…It’s a founding principle of this country.” December 8, 2015

I applaud all of these statements. So should you, Mr. Speaker, since they are all statements you made each time Donald Trump said something offensive. I respected you more and more each time you denounced Mr. Trump’s latest comments on the campaign trail last year that were contrary to our American values.

But now I see that I was wrong. I was wrong to respect you and think that you were a compassionate person. It is clearly obvious now that your only objective was to ensure another Democrat did not win the presidency and to prevent your base from getting angry with you. It is clear you wanted to win no matter what.

I do not expect you to care about the comments of a registered Democrat in Connecticut. I do expect you, however, to care about your family and those closest to you, because I believe that all of us- including our soldiers overseas- are in danger thanks to the current administration’s lack of understanding of foreign affairs, strong-arming tactics, and erratic behavior.

I completely understand wanting to get a Republican elected. I would have been content with Governor Kasich, Senator Paul, or any of the other Republican candidates for president that ran in 2016. I would even be happy to have Vice President Pence as president. But I find it extremely difficult to believe that you can look your family in the eyes and tell them that supporting a man who objectifies women, denies facts, and makes vague threats to our allies and enemies alike is the man you feel comfortable with as the most powerful person in the world. That you find him to be an example for your children and children around the country to look up to and admire for his conduct.

I would not be sending this letter to you if any other Republican had won the presidency. I realize as Speaker you have to worry about your members and keeping control, and speaking out against the president of the same party would cause angst amongst your Republican colleagues. To me, the president’s erratic nature and abnormal behavior for a president goes beyond party and simple policy disagreements. I feel strongly that he is a threat to national security (which is something I do believe you and many of your Republican colleagues believe is your party’s strong-suit) because of his policies and comments that I believe will embolden those who wish to do us harm.

I do not claim that Secretary Clinton would have been a good president. I do not question Mr. Trump’s legitimacy to the office. I do, however, question those who condone his behavior and words, which I now know you do since you have completely ignored your previous statements on Mr. Trump’s behavior.

My hope is that in the coming weeks and months, you and some of your colleagues stress the importance the president toning down his rhetoric and focus on jobs and rights for all Americans, not ratings and annoying our allies and focusing solely on the base that sent him to office. At this point, I feel it is a lost cause since no one has the guts to stand up to him and stand by those comments.

I was hopeful that person was going to be you. But as I said….it is apparent that I was wrong.

Regretfully,
Rick Funaro

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Analysis, House News, Opinion

Congress’ attempt to “Save America’s Pastime”

sapa
Summary of the “Save America’s Pastime Act”

In late June 2016, two members of the United States House of Representatives- Cheri Bustos (D- Illinois) and Brett Guthrie (R- Kentucky)- announced they were planning on introducing a bill into Congress. Ordinarily, such a routine announcement would not even register on the radar of much of America, outside of Washington insiders and policy wonks. However, this announcement was no ordinary announcement (and not just because it introduced by a Democrat and a Republican). The House members introduced a bill that even by Washington standards was fairly shocking- an act that would limit the salaries of minor league baseball players. Titled the “Save America’s Pastime Act”, the two sponsors of the “common sense proposal” claimed the act would “close a loophole to ensure the long-term viability of Minor League teams in communities across our nation.”

Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball released a statement shortly after the announcement of the act, pledging its “full support” of the bill (it should also be noted that according to OpenSecrets.org, a nonpartisan research group dedicated to tracking the influence of money in politics, Rep. Bustos received a $2,000 campaign donation from MLB’s political action committee, or PAC, in 2016. Rep. Guthrie and other members of Congress also received various amount of campaign donations from the PAC). The joint statement also makes reference to what spurned the creation of the bill, which is a lawsuit in California brought on by former minor league baseball players who are looking to make minor league pay subject to the terms of the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938). Before we dig into what the lawsuit claims and discuss whether they have a valid point, let us first briefly direct what the FLSA does.

The Fair Labor Standards Act was one of the many bills passed into law by during the years of the Great Depression under the President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” to support those Americans who were working and were trying to make a living wage. After several years of trying to pass similar laws through Congress, the FLSA finally passed in 1938 and established many aspects of working life that today we take for granted: standards involving child labor, the creation of a minimum wage, and standards on who is eligible for overtime pay. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics study, the bill’s enactment brought the wages of roughly 700,000 up at the time of enactment and introduced a workweek which by 1940 was limited to 40 hours, with any hours over that being subjected to overtime pay.

In February 2014, three ex-minor leaguers (Aaron Senne, Michael Liberto, and Oliver Odl) filed a lawsuit against the MLB Commissioner’s Office and all thirty major league teams. The three plaintiffs in the suit (formally called Senne, et al v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, et al) claim that MLB teams violate the standards laid out in the FLSA and that ballplayers should be subjected to overtime and minimum wage laws during the regular season and offseason. It should be noted that in July 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero, concluding that “the individualized issues that will arise in connection with adjudicating these questions [of minor league wages and overtime] will be extensive and will make class-wide treatment of plaintiffs’ claims virtually impossible”, decertified the lawsuit from a class action lawsuit, knocking some 2,000 fellow ex-players from across the country off the suit.

milb-salaries
Salaries of MiLB Players (Chart from ThinkBlueLA.com)

For a visual look at the pay minor league ballplayers receive, consider the above chart. This chart covers the salaries of each and every minor league player not on the 40-man roster (which will be explained later) in all levels of the minor leagues. To compare how those salaries stack up to other occupations in the United States, please see the chart below.

screen-shot-2016-11-19-at-2-50-23-pm
Chart from HardballTimes.com

As one can see, wages for minor league baseball players fall well below those jobs that most consider to be worthy of just minimum wage. This does not factor in having to also pay for food, rent, cell phone bills, and many other expenses typical of an American worker. In addition, many minor leaguers must take offseason jobs to help supplement their meager minor league pay. While some might point to the large signing bonuses draft picks in the early rounds of the MLB Draft receive (the average signing bonus of a player selected in the first round of the MLB Draft in 2016 was $2,897,557), players drafted after the tenth round (a team’s signing bonus money pool is set before the draft and each pick has a dollar amount attached to it, per the CBA) of the forty-round draft typically do not receive bonuses over six-figures, or even high five-figures, especially college seniors with no negotiating leverage. Just over 300 players are drafted within the first ten rounds. Roughy 900 are selected in rounds 11-40. Of the 900 in that range that do sign contracts with the team that drafts them, they do so with meager salaries and low signing bonuses to draw on to pay for housing (which teams do help players get). Players also get a small amount of meal money, which often goes towards food that is not the healthiest for a professional athlete.

It is apparent that ballplayers in the minor leagues are getting taken advantage of, much in the way major league players were prior to their gains brought on by unionization and collective bargaining. Their meager pay does not justify the hours of work they put into their craft, both during games and training for them. For many minor leaguers, playing baseball is not an “apprenticeship”, as some have argued. It is a full-time job, and anyone who commits to a full-time job should not be forced to accept pay that falls well below the poverty line or minimum wage standards. A bill like the “Save America’s Pastime Act” does nothing but further harm those who want to play the sport, and harm those who want the participation and popularity of the sport to increase.

As for the fate of the aforementioned act, Representative Bustos pulled her support for the bill just six days after it was formally introduced to the House, saying that “while it’s important to sustain minor league baseball teams that provide economic support to small communities across America, I cannot support legislation that does so at the expense of the players”, further adding that she believes “that Major League Baseball can and should pay young, passionate minor league players a fair wage for the work they do.” The bill has been sitting idle in a subcommittee within the House Committee on Education and the Workforce since September 19. Both representatives won re-election to the House in November.

After the decertification of the lawsuit as a class action suit, the plaintiffs in Senne v. the Officer of the Commissioner of Baseball filed a motion on September 7 for an appeal on the restoration of the classification. While Judge Spero reconsiders the classification, the trial for the lawsuit, which had been scheduled to begin next month, has been indefinitely postponed.

House News, Transportation

Would-be ban on first class air travel for members of Congress vetoed

An amendment on a bill that would have prohibited members of Congress from using taxpayer money to buy first class seating on airplanes has been tabled.

The House of Representatives’ Rules Committee on Monday declined to bring the amendment (which was to be attached to a bill appropriating money to Congressional operations) to the House floor. The amendment was proposed by two Republicans (Rep. Rod Blum of Iowa and Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona) and a Democrat (Rep. Gwen Graham of Florida).

According to a statement posted on his website, Rep. Blum said House members don’t need “perks like first class travel to do our job.” Below is the full statement:

“This is not a partisan issue: members of the House of Representatives don’t need special taxpayer funded perks like first class travel to do our job. By adopting this amendment, the House can take a concrete step towards showing the American people that we are serious about good stewardship of taxpayer money — while holding ourselves accountable at a time when approval ratings for Congress remain near all time lows.”

Rep. Gosar also made his feelings known with the following tweet:

It turns out this isn’t the first time the three representatives have tried to curb the use of taxpayer money to buy first class seats on airplanes.

According to The Hill, Rep. Gosar and Democratic representative Raul Ruiz of California proposed a bill earlier this month called the COACH (Coach-Only Airfare for Capitol Hill) Act. As the carefully-crafted name implies, the bill would have prevented lawmakers and their staffs from using money from taxpayers to secure first class seats on flights. However, it would have allowed for those lawmakers and staffers with to use public funds for such seats in the event of medical necessity. Reps. Gosar and Ruiz also were behind a bill proposed in 2014 titled “If Our Military Has to Fly Coach Then So Should Congress Act.”

Rep. Graham also introduced a similar bill a little earlier this year. This particular piece of legislation would have not only banned lawmakers from using public money for first class seats on flights, but also would have ended the use of those same funds for personal long-term car leases. That particular bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Blum.

According to The Hill, the amendment was not put up to a vote Monday because some on the Rule Committee doubted whether the abuse of such perks is a widespread issue.

“I don’t think members are going around buying first-class tickets,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts). “I just don’t think it’s a problem.”

House News, News, Senate News, Spending/Taxes

Bill introduced that could lower interest on student loans

student-loan-default

A new bill introduced into Congress on Wednesday could give relief to millions of college graduates and their families (if passed, of course).

The bill- titled “The Bank of Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act”- would attempt to lower interest rates for a range of borrowers. Ivana Saric of DailyCal.org summarized the basic parameters of the bill nicely:

With the passage of the bill, certain existing undergraduate student loans could be refinanced down to a 3.86 percent annual interest rate, graduate student loans could be refinanced to 5.41 percent, and parent loans could be refinanced to 6.41 percent. This would save borrowers on average $2,000 per loan.

For reference, here are the current interest rates on student loans, as provided by StudentAid.ed.gov:

(Screenshot from StudentAid.ed.gov)
(Screenshot from StudentAid.ed.gov)

The bill was introduced on Capitol Hill by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) and Connecticut Representative Joe Courtney (D), and it is co-sponsored by over 100 other legislators (79 members of the House and 28 senators). In a statement released by his press office, Rep. Courtney said (in part):

Student debt—which surpassed $1 trillion last Congress—hinders our economy because it delays borrowers from major investments, including buying a home, starting a business, and saving for retirement. As higher education becomes more crucial than ever to secure a good-paying job, keeping college affordable must be a top priority in Washington.

According to Rep. Courtney’s statement, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that about $460 billion worth of current student loans would be eligible for refinancing if this proposal were to pass (which works out to about half of borrowers).

Sen. Warren introduced a similar bill in the Senate last September, but it was shot down by Republicans in the chamber. At the time, some members of the G.O.P. opposed the proposed bill because it would raise taxes on the wealthy through implementation of a 30% tax payment on income of people making $1-2 million (also known as the “Buffet Rule”). As of yet, it is not known if the latest version of the interest rate bill would be tied to the Buffet tax proposal.

Defense, House News, Senate News

Pres. Obama asks Congress to approve force against ISIL

President Obama speaking to military families in 2013 (Photo by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley)
President Obama speaking to military families in 2013 (Photo by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley)

In a letter sent to Capitol Hill Wednesday, President Obama has asked Congress to approve his request to use force against the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

According to the official AUMF (authorization for use of military force), the president is asking Congress to approve a plan that would allow military use against the group for up to three years, but would permit the U.S. military from putting actual boots on the ground. The AUMF also would require the president to give reports to Congress every six months regarding what specific actions have been taken against ISIL under the approval of the authorization (the official request can be found here).

The following is a portion of President Obama’s letter to request (as found on the White House website), where he details what approval of this AUMF would allow him to do:

My Administration’s draft AUMF would not authorize long‑term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our Nation conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Local forces, rather than U.S. military forces, should be deployed to conduct such operations.  The authorization I propose would provide the flexibility to conduct ground combat operations in other, more limited circumstances, such as rescue operations involving U.S. or coalition personnel or the use of special operations forces to take military action against ISIL leadership.  It would also authorize the use of U.S. forces in situations where ground combat operations are not expected or intended, such as intelligence collection and sharing, missions to enable kinetic strikes, or the provision of operational planning and other forms of advice and assistance to partner forces.

Shortly after the White House announced its request, the office of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) released a statement saying the president’s request falls short of “a robust authorization.” More below:

ISIL is at war with our country and our allies.  If we are going to defeat this enemy, we need a comprehensive military strategy and a robust authorization, not one that limits our options.  Any authorization for the use of military force must give our military commanders the flexibility and authorities they need to succeed and protect our people.  While I believe an AUMF against ISIL is important, I have concerns that the president’s request does not meet this standard.  Now we will begin hearings and rigorous oversight so lawmakers and the public can provide their input.  Ultimately, our objective is to show the world that the United States is resolute in our commitment to destroy ISIL.

On the Senate side, majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said the Senate would review the president’s request “thoughtfully” and would seek the advise and consideration of military leaders. You can see Sen. McConnell’s full comments below from his YouTube channel (everyone has one nowadays it seems, don’t they?)

The request is the first formal presidential request to use military force sent to Congress since President George W. Bush asked and received permission back in 2002 to invade Iraq. According to Yahoo!News, there is no timetable as of yet for Congress to consider and approve President Obama’s request for authorization.

House News, Immigration

Dueling Pianos: President, Speaker battle over Immigration

This photo says it all about their working relationship, doesn't it? (Photo from OutsideTheBeltway.com)
This photo says it all about their working relationship, doesn’t it? (Photo from OutsideTheBeltway.com)

“You say yes/ I say no/you stay stop/ and I say go, go, go”

The Beatles were such a great band that they apparently could write a song in 1967 about American politics in the 21st century. Who knew?

Ever since President Obama announced his plans to allow millions of undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States through the use of executive action in November of last year, Congressional Republicans have bashed the action and have threatened to tie the funding for the immigration action to the finances of the Department of Homeland Security, which are scheduled to run out at the end of this month.

In recent days, the rhetoric coming from the White House and Republican leadership has increased (that increase is probably due to the president introducing his budget, which included the money to fund the executive action, to Congress last week). First, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hit the president’s action hard during a press conference last Tuesday. You can see it below (via the speaker’s YouTube account):

Not to be outdone, the White House released a video on its YouTube account of a meeting President Obama had with DREAMers. In the video, the president makes his case for why people like the DREAMers in the Oval Office that day should be allowed to stay in the country.

There you have it. The battle over immigration has spilled into cyberspace, and we’ll likely have more of these video battles in the weeks ahead. Or maybe the political duo will take the advice mentioned in another Beatles song:

“We Can Work It Out”

House News, News, Senate News

From Vatican Hill to Capitol Hill: Pope to address Congress

(Pope Francis and President Obama at the Vatican in March 2014; Photo by the AP)
Pope Francis and President Obama at the Vatican in March 2014 (Photo by the AP)

Pope Francis will become the first pope to make an address to a joint session of Congress when he visits the United States later this year.

According to a statement released on House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) website, the first pope from the Americas will speak to the 114th Congress on Sept. 24. More from the speaker’s release:

In a time of global upheaval, the Holy Father’s message of compassion and human dignity has moved people of all faiths and backgrounds.  His teachings, prayers, and very example bring us back to the blessings of simple things and our obligations to one another.  We look forward to warmly welcoming Pope Francis to our Capitol and hearing his address on behalf of the American people.

Last summer, the Vatican confirmed that the pope would come to the U.S. to attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, which takes place from Sept. 22 through the 27th. Speculation that he could expand his U.S. stay ended when Pope Francis himself said during his visit to the Philippines that he planned to visit New York and Washington D.C. during his late summer trip.

While there is no word as of yet as to the content of Pope Francis’ address, one possible topic he could discuss is the future of the U.S.-Cuba relationship. The pope has played an active role in getting the countries open up dialogue after nearly 60 years of silence in the hopes of reestablishing a working relationship in the future. While he has had largely positive relationship with the U.S., the pope has been a strong critic of some policies held by American politicians. In 2013, Pope Francis slammed the idea of “trickle-down” economics, saying the theory plays a role in the increase of income inequality around the world. The Catholic Church has also criticized President Obama for including  coverage for abortions and birth control in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and it was reportedly a topic of conversation during the president’s meeting with the pope at the Vatican last year.

Last month, New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan said in a blog post that while the Vatican will not announce any official schedule for the pope’s trip until around March 1, he expects Pope Francis will address the United Nations and make a stop at historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Obviously, there is no word yet on whether His Holiness will visit the White House during his stop in Washington.