Some Legislators Pushing to End U.S. Senate Elections

For politicos, Indiana's 2012 U.S. Senate primary and election had it all: Drama. Faction rivalries. Gaffes. But if it was up to some legislators, the ultimate victor would not be left up to the general voting public.

Some Georgia Republicans are seeking a repeal of the 17th Amendment, and want state legislators to start appointing Senators in order to bring more power back to the states. The Huffington Post writes:

The resolution calls on Congress to begin the process of repealing the 17th Amendment, passed in 1913, which provided for the direct election of senators. State Rep. Kevin Cooke (R-Carrollton), the main sponsor of the resolution, told the Douglas County Sentinel that moving the power back to state legislatures would allow for the original intent of the Constitution.

“It’s a way we would again have our voice heard in the federal government, a way that doesn’t exist now,” Cooke told the paper. “This isn’t an idea of mine. This was what James Madison was writing. This would be a restoration of the Constitution, about how government is supposed to work.”

In the text of the resolution, Cooke cites Madison's writing in the Federalist Papers, specifying that members of the Senate would be "elected absolutely and exclusively by state legislatures."

The resolution says the 17th Amendment has prevented state governments from having a say in federal government and that repealing the amendment would hold U.S. senators accountable to the states. The federal government has grown in "size and scope," it says, in the century since the amendment was adopted.

The 17th Amendment was adopted out of concern for state-level corruption influencing Senate elections, which Cooke said would not be the case now.

“It’s the responsibility of each and every citizen to make sure of who gets elected to office, that they’re principled people,” Cooke told the Douglas County Sentinel. “You can look at the current state of ethics and transparency. Anybody has the ability to look at money being donated to campaigns. It would keep anything from being done out of the public eye.”

Why We Endorsed Sen. Lugar Today

We announced our endorsement of six-term incumbent Richard Lugar for the U.S. Senate today. The endorsement was made by the Indiana Chamber Congressional Action Committee, the federal political action committee of the Indiana Chamber.

"Senator Lugar has compiled a most impressive pro-economy, pro-jobs voting record throughout his years of service," said Kevin Brinegar, president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. "His focus on helping grow Indiana businesses and putting Hoosiers back to work is exactly what we need in Washington."

Lugar has been a long-time leader on many energy, national security, foreign policy and agricultural issues, among others. His effort to overcome bureaucratic obstacles and make the Keystone XL pipeline a reality – and create jobs in Indiana and throughout the country – is just one current example of his continued leadership.

"In a time when congressional approval levels are at record lows and partisanship is all too common," Brinegar adds, "Sen. Lugar should be applauded for his ability to reach across the aisle and work with members of both parties. We believe Hoosiers strongly benefit from his expertise and experience."

Lugar, Three Reps Earn Enterprise Awards from U.S. Chamber

Sen. Richard Lugar and Reps. Steve Buyer, Dan Burton and Mike Pence were recently presented with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Spirit of Enterprise award for their support of American businesses during the last session. Here is a list of the recipients. Lugar’s office reports:

Lugar scored a perfect 100 percent from the Chambers his votes against President Obama’s health care financial regulation legislation, in addition to his votes to extend Middle Class tax breaks.

The Chamber has given Lugar the award for his pro-jobs creating votes every year since Lugar began serving Indiana in the Senate in 1977. During that time Lugar has a cumulative voting score of 91 percent on hundreds of votes to promote economic development.

“The Chamber applauds Senator Lugar for supporting the private sector and job growth through these difficult times,” said Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “He has demonstrated great courage and we commend him.”

The Spirit of Enterprise Award “recognizes those lawmakers who have demonstrated leadership on important business issues” according to the Chamber.

Lugar has received additional pro-business and taxpayer awards including the Taxpayer Hero Award from the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, and the Watchdog of the Treasury. Lugar has consistently been named “Guardian of Small Business” by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) for a 100 percent voting record on behalf of America’s small-business owners during the 111th Congress. Lugar has been named a “Guardian of Small Business” 16 of the last 17 Congresses.

Lugar Skeptical of EPA Dust Regs for Farms

As the Environmental Protection Agency considers regulation to tighten restrictions on dust on rural farms, Sen. Richard Lugar, along with 30 other Senators, condemned the National Ambient Air Quality Standards proposal as not being realistic. He writes:

“Proposals to lower the standard may not be significantly burdensome in urban areas, but will likely have significant effects on businesses and families in rural areas, many of whom have a tough time meeting current standards,” Lugar wrote. 

“Naturally occurring dust is a fact of life in rural America and the creation of dust is unavoidable for the agriculture industry,” Lugar and the others continued. “Indeed, with the need to further increase food production to meet world food demands, regulations that will stifle the U.S. agriculture industry could result in the loss of productivity, an increase in food prices, and further stress on our nation’s rural economy.” 

Lugar’s letter continued: “Tilling soil, even through reduced tillage practices, often creates dust as farmers work to seed our nation’s roughly 400 million acres of cropland.  Likewise, harvesting crops with various pieces of farm equipment and preparing them for storage also creates dust. 

“Due to financial and other considerations, many roads in rural America are not paved and dust is created when they are traversed by cars, trucks, tractors, and other vehicles.  To potentially require local and county governments to pave or treat these roads to prevent dust creation could be tremendously burdensome for already cash-strapped budgets.”

“While we strongly support efforts to safeguard the wellbeing of Americans, most Americans would agree that common sense dictates that the federal government should not regulate dust creation in farm fields and on rural roads,” Lugar letter concluded. “Additionally, the scientific and technical evidence seems to agree.  Given the ubiquitous nature of dust in agricultural settings and many rural environments, and the near impossible task of mitigating dust in most settings, we are hopeful that the EPA will give special consideration to the realities of farm and rural environments, including retaining the current standard.”

Senate Republicans Call for Withdrawal of NLRB Member

Forty-seven U.S. Senators have signed a letter to President Obama asking him to withdraw his nomination that put Craig Becker on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Notable signers include Richard Lugar, John McCain, Tom Coburn and Mitch McConnell, among many others.

Sworn in April of last year, Becker had served as associate general counsel to both the SEIU and AFL-CIO. The letter (linked below) points out that the Senate voted in opposition to his initial appointment, and argues he has done nothing to alleviate previously held concerns. The Senators contend Becker "has led the Board to re-open and reverse settled decisions, made discrete cases a launching point for broad changes to current labor law, and used an 18-year-old petition to initiate a rulemaking proposal that likely exceeds the Board’s statutory authority."

Here is the full letter — with signatures.

Hoosier Legislators Remark on State of Union

As is standard practice, Indiana’s congressmen and senators released their thoughts on last night’s State of the Union speech. Here are a few samples, courtesy of Inside INdiana Business:

Sen. Richard Lugar
“More jobs, now, in private industry are essential to strengthen our country. The President spoke of his strong interest in job creation, but his State of the Union address needs immediate follow-up with very specific proposals and personal negotiation to bring bi-partisan legislation and encouragement for all businesses that are prepared to hire more people. This is job number one for President Obama and the U.S. Congress.”

Rep. Andre Carson
“I hope my colleagues on the Republican side recognize that leadership is more than just slashing spending. It’s also recognizing the importance of making investments in areas that are crucial to keeping the United States at the forefront. The President has committed to cutting the deficit as well as improving resources for infrastructure, education and research. This approach is bold, necessary and one that I support.”

Rep. Todd Rokita:
The President’s proposals to freeze discretionary spending does not go far enough. Rokita told WIBC the federal government should follow Indiana’s lead. He says the state reverted to 2008 spending levels and then cut another 15 percent across the board.

Rep. Pete Visclosky
“President Obama made clear tonight, and I agree, that our nation’s economic security is a critical component of ensuring our broader national security. As we rebuild our nation’s economy, we must defend our existing industries, invest in our public infrastructure, and address the problem of our massive federal debt. Meeting these worthy goals can help ensure access to solid employment, expanded economic opportunities, and a good quality of life for residents of Northwest Indiana.”

Chamber Visits Delegation in D.C.

Approximately 50 members of the Indiana Chamber visited with Indiana’s congressional delegation during the Chamber’s annual D.C. Fly-in event September 14-15. The group, accompanied by Chamber President Kevin Brinegar and other staff, arrived in a city where partisan tensions were ever present and more than a few congressmen were absent, locked in tight re-election fights back in the Hoosier state.

The Chamber delegation visited with both U.S. Sens. Dick Lugar and Evan Bayh, engaging with the latter in an informal Q&A session in the U.S. Capitol’s Visitors Center. Senator Bayh pronounced that it was likely the last time he would be meeting with us as a U.S. senator and further stated that predictions of an active agenda for a post-election “lame duck” session of Congress were overblown. Senator Bayh told the group that there was very little momentum for a broad agenda beyond a fiscal continuing resolution to keep the federal government functioning and perhaps some action on extending the ’01 and ’03 or so-called Bush tax cuts.

Senator Lugar addressed the group during dinner on September 14, joined by Reps. Pete Visclosky, Dan Burton, Steve Buyer (who is retiring) and Mike Pence. The group echoed Sen. Bayh’s assessment about the congressional agenda through year’s end, and tax legislation, the federal budget and the upcoming election were foremost on their minds.

The Chamber participants pressed the delegation on a variety of issues, including pending appropriations bills, reauthorization of the federal surface transportation act and “card check” legislation. Special emphasis was given to extending the tax cuts, as expiration of this tax relief at year’s end would negatively affect the frail national economy and Hoosier small businesses.

On January 1, 2011, Americans will face the biggest tax hike in history. If Congress fails to act, marginal tax rates will increase for every taxpayer, the capital gains rate climbs 33%, and dividend rates jump by as much as 164%. American small businesses, our economic jobs engine, will face marginal tax rates as high as 39.6%. Compounded with the loss of certain itemized deductions and personal exemptions, these small businesses face rates as high as 41.6%. And this increase hits successful small businesses, our job creators, particularly hard: Approximately half of the business income reported on tax returns in 2011 will be subjected to the top two marginal rates.

The Indiana Chamber’s message to the delegation was that outcome is unacceptable and Congress must act before year’s end, but no one in D.C. seems to know when, or if, that debate might occur. In a time of economic uncertainty, raising taxes on businesses and investors would hinder Americans from building individual savings and further investing in the economy.

Extending existing tax rates would, in one bold stroke, boost investor, business and consumer confidence by taking the uncertainty of tax policy off the table. It would leave hard earned income in the hands of the individuals and businesses that earned it and allow them to spur investment, boost consumption, promote economic growth and create jobs.

Now is not the time to increase taxes on all taxpayers, but rather to work together to keep the economy on the road to recovery.

Tully: Trying to “Primary” Lugar Would be Ill-Advised

Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully penned a column today contending that if a faction of the GOP was to push for a primary ousting of Sen. Richard Lugar in 2012, it would be an ill-fated and ill-advised decision. He writes:

However unrealistic it seems, it would be foolish to assume any long-term incumbent is untouchable, given the mood of the voting public of late. And most Republican insiders I’ve talked to expect Lugar to indeed face a challenge from a faction of the GOP that thinks he’s been in D.C. too long and worked with Democrats too often.

Still, there are reasons to believe Lugar will not suffer the same fate that has ended the political careers of some of his Senate colleagues. Here are five:

  1. Some social conservatives complain about Lugar, but he remains popular in the eyes of mainstream conservatives. Some ideologues portray Lugar as a liberal, a ridiculous suggestion for a guy who, according to The Washington Post, has voted with his party 84 percent of the time this year. That’s one percentage point less than the Senate GOP average. "There may be disagreements on certain policies," said Luke Messer, a former executive director of the Indiana Republican Party. "But he is deeply respected by Republicans.

  2. If Lugar does face a tough battle from the far right, many Democrats and independents likely would cross over to vote in the GOP primary in order to back him. "People on our side respect Dick Lugar," said former state Democratic Chairman Robin Winston.

  3. Gov. Mitch Daniels, who worked for Lugar for years, remains extremely popular. His support would help the senator. Additionally, the well-run political organizations of the two men have worked closely together and likely would continue to do so.

  4. Unlike some of his colleagues on the front end of the anti-incumbent wave, Lugar won’t be caught off guard. He has already made clear he is running again, a shrewd move that should keep any top-tier Republicans from entertaining the idea of a run.

  5. And here’s the final reason Lugar won’t lose in 2012: Hoosiers are smarter than that.

I’d like to "go rogue" here and offer my personal thoughts as a voter (which do not necessarily reflect the position of the Indiana Chamber): As someone who falls in the political center (a.k.a. abyss) of this conservative/liberal paradigm that’s been shoveled out in modern American politics, I find folks like Sen. Lugar to be rather refreshing in their willingness to think, compromise and generally try to make government actually work.

While it can be fun to draw ideological lines in the sand, get sanctimonious about protecting your team and toss around catchy barbs like "RINO," it’s far more productive to discuss ideas, consider the other side’s point of view and actually try to enact helpful legislation when the time warrants it. Personally, I’d argue Sen. Lugar has done that honorably for years.

Senate Votes to Open Health Care Debate

On Saturday, a 60-39 vote opened the debate on the 2,074-page health care bill in the U.S. Senate. The debate on the amending proposal is slated to last for several (if not more) weeks. CNN reports:

"We do not believe completely restructuring one-sixth of our economy is a good idea at any time," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told CNN. "It is a particularly bad idea when we’re looking at double-digit unemployment."

McConnell and other Republicans call for an incremental approach that they say would reduce the costs of health care without creating new bureaucracy and taxes.

"We think we ought to go step-by-step to improve the system," McConnell said. "The American people are not complaining about the quality of health care. They’re complaining about the cost of health care."

Democrats respond that the Republicans are ignoring millions of Americans who can’t get health insurance.

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Democrat who was a Republican for most of his long career until changing parties this year, told "Fox News Sunday": "The one option which is not present in my judgment is the option of doing nothing."

"We have the opposition refusing to admit that there’s any problem with health care, refusing to admit that there’s any problem with global warming, refusing to take a stand on the economic crisis," Specter complained about his former party.

The 60-39 Senate vote Saturday to open debate revealed the partisan divide on the issue, and the fragility of the Democratic support. Democrats needed their entire caucus, including two independents, to muster the 60 votes required in the 100-member chamber to overcome a Republican filibuster.

Now several conservative and moderate Democrats say they won’t support a final bill that includes a public insurance option. Republicans unanimously oppose the public option, which means it cannot survive in the chamber without unanimous Democratic support.

"I don’t think anybody feels this bill will pass" in its current form, Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut told NBC’s "Meet the Press." Lieberman voted to start debate on the bill, but reiterated Sunday he would join a Republican filibuster if the public option remains in the proposal when it comes time to end the debate.

See the Indiana Chamber’s view below: