Aug 14, 2009

Senate Republicans play to the rightwing base and ignore important pending legislation

LANSING – If you need to see where the real priorities of the Michigan Senate Republicans are, you just need to be in Lansing Tuesday and take in the meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by right-winger Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland.

The committee will be considering two items: Senate Resolution 17 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 4. Both resolutions “affirm Michigan’s sovereignty under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” I kid you not. With all the work that needs to be done, the Republicans feel the need to take up two non-binding suggestions that are little more than rallying points and fodder for rightwing Republican, Astroturf tea baggers.

The Republican-controlled Senate has met only once in August, nor have they held any committee meetings; other than campaign-like meetings, like the so-called “House Republican Jobs Taskforce” that only wants to meet with business owners. The Democratically-controlled House was holding regular sessions and committee hearings this month until this week when it gave it up waiting for the Conference Committees to send over the budget bills, and they held committee as late as Wednesday.

You will recall that the House and Senate passed different versions of the budget bills for each state department, and the bills were referred to a conference committee where the differences between the House- and Senate-passed versions will be resolved. The problem is that even though the bills were passed in June, the conference committees do not yet have them.

The Governor, the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader are in closed door negotiations over the state budget, and they must agree on targets before the bills go to the conference committee. You will recall that the Senate version included draconian cuts while the House version involved a mix of cuts and revenue from federal stimulus funds. Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, has a history of negotiating in bad faith to make Democrats look bad, and we saw the same thing in 2007 when Democrats had to step up to avoid a brief government shutdown.

This development comes on the heels of a new report by the Citizens Research Council (CRC) of Michigan that says local units of government, colleges and schools are forced to make decisions regarding numbers of personnel, contracts, tuition levels, in "an informational vacuum" when their fiscal years begin in advance of legislative appropriation decisions. That's because in Michigan, many locals governments and school districts have July 1 as the start of their fiscal years while the state’s is Oct. 1. The later the budget gets approved, the more difficult it is for them to plan, but Senate Republicans have bigger fish to fry.

The Senate version of the school aid budget had drastic cuts that included a $110 cut in the per student foundation grant, eliminated School Readiness grants, Early Childhood funding and Child and Adolescent Health Centers. Many parents are enrolling their children in pre-school programs as the start of the school year fast approaches, but the programs will not be there if Senate Republicans have their way.

This comes on the heels of a report in the Detroit Free Press that says only 65 percent of children entering kindergarten classrooms this year were ready to learn the curriculum.

But where are the Senate Republicans priorities? Playing to the party base with meaningless crap like the 10th Amendment.

They could be taking up the workplace smoking ban many people have been clamoring for, or take up laws to make voting easier that has bipartisan support and were passed in the House or take up the unemployment bills that will give Michigan families running out of unemployment access to $140 million in federal funds. But where are the Senate Republicans priorities? Playing to the party base with meaningless crap like the 10th Amendment.

The 10th Amendment was ratified on December 15, 1791, and it basically restates the Constitution's principle of federalism by providing that powers not granted to the national government nor prohibited to the states are reserved to the states or the people.

Now, I’m not a Constitutional law professor and scholar like President Obama, but isn't the role of the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure laws uphold the Constitution? However, general opinion is that the Constitution grants Congress the authority to do more or less anything that is not explicitly prohibited by the first eight amendments.

It is, apparently, rare, for the Supreme Court to take up 10tn Amendment cases. Again, I’m not a Constitutional law professor and scholar, but the Court has only taken up such cases where the federal government compels the states to enforce federal statutes. In just the first time in 55 years, the Supreme Court invalidated a portion of a federal law for violating the Tenth Amendment in 1992 in a case that challenged a portion of the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act of 1985 that provided incentives for states to comply with statutory obligations to provide for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste.

It seems to me that if people have problems with the federal stimulus plan; appeal it to the conservative Supreme Court.

In earlier time in this country, the states used the 10th amendment to justify repressive and immoral policies, including slavery, the ability to seize abolitionist literature from the mail, secede from the union and to send slave-catchers into non-slave state territory to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, all in the name of state’s rights. There was apparently some war fought in 1861-65 over states’ rights and the ability of states to secede from the federal government.

During the 1960's civil rights fight, the 10th Amendment was used because southern states invoked it as a barrier to enforcement of the 14th Amendment. The 14th Amendment gave citizenship to and protected the civil liberties of recently freed slaves, and states’ rights were used to maintain Jim Crow and Segregation.

The 10th Amendment has been fodder for conservatives for more than a decade. The movement got a boost following the Democratic control of Congress and the White House and more traction when federal dictates about how to spend stimulus money raised hackles in places like Texas and South Carolina. It also got a boost with the fake, Astroturf “tea parties.”

I’m sure the Committee room will be packed Tuesday with the same people who say the President is not a U.S. citizen, go to “tea parties” and disrupt townhall meetings put on by Democrats, but I also guarantee that this meeting will be more respectful.

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