Rodriguez Believes Data-Driven Decisions Are Key to Wise Environmental Policy
Recently, while attending a county fair, I had a conversation with a gentleman who tried to convince me that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) needed to be abolished. I listened politely to his argument but then countered with an explanation of why such a position was unsound. For those who are ideological conservatives, it is patently absurd to believe that they would be opposed to the idea of conservation—it is the very root of the modern environmental movement...
Two Republican presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, were the greatest champions of the conservation movement, and each signed into law signature legislation that advanced the cause of environmental protection in the U.S. This topic is not one that should have a partisan divide between the left and the right; if anything, it should be one of the points of common sense agreement between people of different political stripes.
Regardless of political affiliation, we all appreciate the benefits of clean air and clean water, both on a personal and a societal level. Although a cost may be involved to achieve this, it is clear that the benefits far outweigh the shared burden to attain these goals. Although some might claim that the free market, if left to its own devices, would make wise choices and thereby protect the environment, we know from experience that markets do not have a reputation for making moral choices. It is through deliberate decisions, like removing lead from paint and from gasoline, that we see legislative solutions to societal problems that can be addressed. Were we to ignore such remedies that serve the public good simply to satisfy ideological purity, we would find ourselves in a dangerous world. For instance, would you freely choose to work in an asbestos-laden workplace, or to put it more bluntly, how much mercury do you like with your fish?
Common sense regulation that is rooted in the public interest is beneficial to society, but we must be careful to avoid the excesses of over-regulation that an increasingly bureaucratic state can create. Federal courts have recently blocked the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule that the EPA was hoping to enact as part of an expansion of the Clean Water Act. Under this proposed rule, the EPA would have redefined what constitutes “navigable waterways” and thereby extended federal control onto private property. I believe that the courts acted properly in this regard.
The key to enacting common sense policy with regard to environmental protection is that decisions must be data-driven and not rooted in ideological talking points of either party. Failure to make data-driven decisions will only lead to more man-made disasters like the water crisis in Flint, MI. We can, and must, do better than this as a society, because today’s policy failures will have serious ramifications for generations to come. We cannot be science deniers. We need effective leadership and good stewardship to be our guiding principles as we move forward on matters of environmental policy.
My opponent has recently joined with other political ideologues to try to prevent several attorneys general in various states from moving forward with an investigation of ExxonMobil to see if the company misled its own shareholders and the general public from knowledge linking emission of greenhouse gases and environmental degradation. Key to this matter is the place of data-driven decisions that are based upon scientific assessments. The political class should not give shelter to special interests like multi-national corporations that withhold evidence because they wish to protect the company’s bottom line. Clean politics may be difficult to attain, but if clean air and clean water measures are any indication, it is possible to reduce the toxic irritants that we currently face.
Fiscal responsibility is essential in the U.S. House of Representatives if we ever hope to see a balanced budget and begin the important work of reducing the national debt. Since past Congresses have shown little effort to achieve this end, it is therefore necessary to force a procedural rule that will make it much more problematic for members of Congress to continue to fund so called “pork projects” or legislative earmarks.
A spirit of total transparency is necessary in the legislative process so that the American people can readily see how much government largesse their Representative is spending on pet projects that are largely deemed nonessential.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is a nonpartisan agency that operates within the government to provide data-driven analyses of any pending legislation that has been approved by a committee of the House or Senate. Accordingly, the CBO uses its analytical skills to make cost estimates of most pending legislative bills, but according to congressional custom it does not follow this practice for appropriations bills. As a result, these are the pieces of legislation that often become filled with special earmarks during those late evening sessions when the give-and-take of political deal-making is in full swing. If we want to fix broken government, the fix must begin here.
Junius Rodriguez is proposing a procedural rule that would require an estimate from the CBO on all pending bills that have made their way through committee, including appropriations bills, so that an analysis can be made regarding the necessary cost of the pending legislation and the additional cost that would be added if legislative earmarks were included. Since acronyms can serve a useful purpose here, the CBO should be required to affix a label on all pending legislation—the Fiscal Accountability Tracker (FAT)—to provide the American people with the exact cost of legislation that is pending before the U.S. Congress. Moreover, the procedural rule would require a minimum of a forty-eight hour waiting period for the CBO to conduct its estimate before legislation could be put forward for a final vote. This would put both transparency and rationality as the driving forces in the legislative process and would eliminate the circumstance of late-night votes upon massive bills that no one has read.
In short, this procedural rule is necessary because we cannot allow congressional fat to clog the arteries of the body politic. It is certainly possible that some of the items that are currently funded as congressional pork projects might well have a legitimate purpose, but if so, these projects must stand or fall on their own merits and not as quid pro quo compensation for a rightly-cast vote. Although every legislator would love to return more funding in appropriations to the district than was paid out in tax revenues, this is financially untenable and logically unsound. The U.S. Congress must learn to live within its means.
If this procedural rule is established, the Fiscal Accountability Tracker (FAT) label would be included on all legislation that is up for consideration by the Congress. It would also be available for public review online at the Library of Congress website (Thomas) where voters can review legislation that is pending. This rule would also provide a new metric by which we could measure the effectiveness of legislators in keeping their promises regarding fiscal accountability. Many would agree that Washington, D.C. needs a diet, and perhaps the use of a FAT label is one method that can begin the process of restoring our fiscal health and wellness.
Each year when we celebrate the Fourth of July and commemorate our nation’s values we also honor and thank the many men and women who over the years have defended the nation through their service in the armed forces. Today’s policy proposal is intended to keep faith with this tradition by recognizing the service of those who have done so much to ensure the freedom and the liberty that we all hold so dear.
Responsibility and commitment must be the benchmarks by which the effectiveness of any system of government is evaluated. In short, does a nation always stand true to its ideals and honor the promises that it makes? Sadly, the recent scandalous revelations regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs would suggest that the nation has fallen woefully short in living up to its time-honored commitment to care for those who gave their all in service to the nation. Regardless of our party affiliation, we can all agree that this situation is intolerable and that it must be remedied.
Last year the U.S. Congress agreed to a stopgap measure that would begin to address the backlog of cases that are pending in the VA hospital system. Under this system a veteran is entitled to receive emergency healthcare at a non-VA facility at VA expense provided that the hospital has an agreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Yet, in an apparent bureaucratic snafu, the non-VA hospitals that agree to provide these important services were denied the ability to advertise this to the public. It is unclear as to whether this policy represents a fear of free market competition or whether it is intended to maintain a monopolistic hold on healthcare on the part of the VA, but either of these justifications is unsound. The prohibition on advertising these vital services must be lifted.
Junius Rodriguez believes that in addition to lifting this advertising ban so that more veterans have access to vital medical services, the stopgap measure should be expanded so that additional healthcare facilities that wish to participate in providing care to veterans are allowed to do so under the umbrella of VA benefits. The measure of true reform in this regard must be whether we are providing the promised health services to our nation’s veterans, not to whether or not the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. are given an opportunity to save face. This is the least that we can do to keep the faith with those who have served their nation through the years with honor and selfless dedication.
Independent Maps Are Absolutely Necessary According to Rodriguez Reconfiguring the maps of legislative and congressional districts is a constitutional requirement that occurs each decade after the results of the census have been announced. Thus, like clockwork, the process of redistricting begins as state legislators initiate a frantic effort to preserve their domain and, in effect, make it bulletproof so as to head off any potential challengers.
This is certainly not a situation where less is more. How is it that we have allowed our citizen democracy to sink to this level?
Writing in Federalist # 51, James Madison cautioned that “a power independent of the society may as well espouse the unjust views of the major, as the rightful interests, of the minor party,” and he saw this as one of the potential weaknesses of the checks and balances built into the American constitutional system. It is unfortunate that Madison’s great concern has come to fruition in the process of redistricting. We have permitted a system to take effect in which the politicians have the constitutional right to select their voters. This has, in effect, created the conveyor belt of incumbency that produces the most absurd of notions—the career politician. In effect, our current system gives voters much less of a choice in selecting their representatives.
I support the idea of having legislative and congressional district maps developed by an independent commission that is absolutely free of partisan influence. The principle of rationality must be employed in the creation of these maps to determine most accurately where the lines must ultimately be drawn. This kind of Solomon-like wisdom does not come naturally to the political class—of either party—so we must rely upon the judicious temperament of independent-minded individuals to sort through the demographic data and make the best choices.
The notion of having legislative and congressional district boundaries determined by an independent commission should not be construed as anything that will undermine the power and the influence of the voting public. Certain safeguards can be put in place to protect the rights that racial and ethnic minorities are guaranteed under the Voting Rights Act. In addition, the districts drawn should reflect the common interests of the residents included and should honor geographic boundaries rather than simply dividing a neighborhood down the middle of a street.
The gerrymandered districts that exist currently have been tremendously effective in preserving the status quo, and where has that gotten us? Voters are periodically roused with the “throw the bums out” mentality, but this does not always lead to effective change because collectively we seem to have a short attention span in such matters. Maybe 2016 will be different—time will tell.
The independent maps approach is a true good government reform that can hopefully produce government that is more effective than our current system. In a true citizen democracy we should not consider a legislative district to be a personal fiefdom to be maintained by the political class. The People are sovereign within our system, and the People are relatively independent-minded when it comes to understanding what is right from what is just plain wrong. We deserve the right to a system that can help make our government better. Our goal for the past 229 years has been “to form a more perfect Union,” and the independent maps proposal can help us to achieve that end.
Voters should demand that any political candidate who purports a willingness to challenge the toxicity and work to remedy the dysfunction within the U.S. Congress should state a clear and unequivocal position on the question of term limits. In recent election cycles we have all too readily witnessed the power of the conveyor belt of incumbency, and we can easily grasp the ill effects that this factor has had upon our Democracy.
During the 2014 election cycle, 96 percent of incumbents in the U.S. House of Representatives who sought reelection were returned to their posts in spite of the abysmally low esteem with which the institution of the U.S. Congress is regarded according to recent national polls.
Although Congressman Darin LaHood, the Republican incumbent, has on occasion voiced his support for term limits, when pressed for more specifics on the issue he has dialed back his endorsement of the idea and issued a very tepid response to this notion. In May 2015, while a candidate in the Special Election to fill the vacancy in the IL-18th seat, LaHood signed a pledge with the advocacy group U.S. Term Limits to support a three-term limit for members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Yet only weeks later, during a radio interview, LaHood was asked about his views on term limits and he stated that “serving somewhere between six terms and eight terms would be something that would be appropriate.” One might also infer that the Congressman’s obvious penchant for a lifetime career in politics might imply that term limits is nothing more than an elaborate game of “musical chairs” in which one finds vacancies to fill while ever-rising within the political echelon. There is something very shallow in this.
Democratic challenger Junius Rodriguez has stated on multiple occasions that he personally supports the notion of term limits. According to Rodriguez, “If given the honor of representing the residents of the IL-18th congressional district, I will view this as what the Founders intended it to be--a temporary assignment that has been granted to me. I have absolutely no intention of serving more than three terms (six years) in the U.S. House of Representatives.” Junius Rodriguez believes that there is an inherent danger in the power of entrenched incumbency in American politics today, and he does not want to go to Washington to join the club, but rather to challenge the business-as-usual mentality that prevails there.
Junius Rodriguez believes that one of the most important measures of a person’s character is how they handle power. He knows that a person’s willingness to relinquish power voluntarily is one of the most consequential tests of leadership. In crafting our constitutional system to be “a machine that could go of its own,” the Founders understood that the willingness of ordinary citizens to step forward in times of national consequence was indeed the essence of how a Citizen Democracy should function. Supporting the notion of term limits is one of the ways that we can restore a level of accountability to a political system that has become terribly jaded in the eyes of the People.
Social Security Rodriguez Believes Graduated and Multi-Faceted Fixes Can Extend Lifetime of Social Security Social Security has infamously been described by some as “the third rail of American politics,” implying that it is a potentially deadly issue that politicians should broach with extreme caution or not at all. As such, it has been famously ignored during a generation of congressional do-nothingism because the concern of perpetuating careers by many is greater than their willingness to tackle an issue that is laden with controversy.
Since we know that the Social Security Trust Fund will become insolvent down the line unless we find the courage to act now, it is imperative that the next Congress begins the challenging work of guaranteeing the life of Social Security for future generations. I believe that the U.S. Congress should begin the process in 2017 of raising the retirement age from 67 to 70 within a decade. This can be achieved by incrementally raising the retirement age and the clear expression of the timetable can allow for those who are approaching the age of retirement to plan accordingly and determine the point at which they would choose to retire. Americans experience a longer life-expectancy today than they did when retirement cohorts were originally set, and pushing the retirement age back ever so slightly does contribute to the greater life of the Social Security Trust Fund. Today, regardless of the salary that one might earn, no worker in the U.S. pays FICA taxes (for Social Security and Medicare) on any salary above $122,000. I would propose that the upper limit of this be raised to a $200,000 cap over the next decade. This too will provide additional revenue that will extend the life of Social Security well into the future. Although some will object to this proposal, we must inculcate a sense of inter-generational responsibility here. We are supporting our parents and grandparents generation with the assurance that our own age cohort will be treated equitably in due course. A multi-faceted approach to Social Security reform must include implementation of a means-testing system for the most wealthy among us. Those individuals among the millionaire class who do not need to receive monthly Social Security checks in order to make ends meet should not be receiving them. Any use of means testing must be indexed to inflation on a regular basis so that no one is unfairly penalized by this system; individuals who fell below the means testing threshold would again be eligible for benefits. This reform will also add life to the Social Security Trust Fund. The U.S. Congress must also rise to the occasion and prove itself to be fiscally responsible. It is critical that the Congress makes it a priority to make Social Security a program that is fully funded so that expenditures do not consistently outpace revenues to fund it. Reform cannot simply be a stopgap measure because that is essentially passing the problem on to future generations. Most importantly, we must keep in mind that the most effective means of strengthening Social Security for years to come is the creation of good jobs at good wages in the coming decade. We should set as a target the creation of at least 25 million new jobs in the coming decade and work to ensure that these are jobs that provide living wages and beyond to a new generation of American workers. Individuals who are working at good jobs with good wages will have the ability to save money—something that is all too often an unavailable luxury to many who today work from paycheck-to-paycheck. We must also do as much as we can to incentivize savings in the rising generation of American workers—not as a means of moving toward privatization of Social Security, but as a means of encouraging savings to supplement future Social Security payments.