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Archive | Voices and Views

New flags for Courtland Cemetery

The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Writers are limited to one letter per month. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to Post Scripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

This is a follow up to our plea asking that our flags be returned to Courtland Township Cemetery. We received one phone call from a resident whose son has been laid to rest in our cemetery. This gentleman has such great passion for what happened here. His son, too, served this great nation to allow you and I the freedoms and the sense of security knowing our military men and women are protecting this great nation each and every day. This proud Dad, who did not desire his name to be published, contacted the Cedar Springs American Legion Commander to inquire if he could purchase replacement flags. Instead, the Legion out of Cedar Springs donated 144 flags to be put up on our Veterans’ gravesites! Wow, does that make your heart swell with pride!

A special thank you goes out to this passionate Dad, who is extremely proud of his son! Thank you to the Commander and the Cedar Springs American Legion for their desire to acknowledge and show respect to the Veterans who have been laid to rest in Courtland Township Cemetery.

Sandy Frandsen

Courtland Township Clerk

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Getting Congress back on track


By Lee H. Hamilton, former member of U.S. House of Representatives

The other day, someone I’ve known for years offered a pointed bit of criticism. “It’s easy for people like you to make long lists of things Congress should do to improve,” he said. “But you know good and well most of them won’t happen. So if you’re really serious, what’s the one most important thing it could do? What does Congress absolutely need to start getting itself back on track?”

He was right. “People like me”—that is, people who comment publicly about all the things Congress gets wrong—often have long laundry lists of fixes, from wringing the influence of special-interest money out of the system to members of different parties spending more time together. But the most important fix? That takes some thinking.

I’ve spent some time on it and have my answer. But you’re not going to like it. What’s critically important for Congress to do? Return to the regular order.

I know, even a lot of wonks don’t know what that means. That’s because it’s a little hard to define precisely. Drawing on the work of congressional scholars Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein, you could think of the regular order as the rules, precedents and norms that have evolved over congressional history to make sure that it treats its members fairly in the course of its work and that it plays its proper role in our scheme of government.

In part, this is about process. You may think of committee hearings, expert testimony, and a fair debate and amendments process as eye-glazing details, but they evolved for a reason. They’re how Congress ensured that a diversity of voices got heard, members got the benefit of the best thinking in the country on difficult issues, and even rank-and-file members had a chance to shape policy.

I put those in the past tense because, of course, mostly they no longer happen. Instead, Congress has gotten into some distressing habits—omnibus bills, weakened committees (especially in the budget process), amendment-free legislating—which all add up to a curtailed process dominated by the leadership. It has limited floor debate, tends to bypass ordinary members, and gives disproportionate influence to big donors and lobbyists. It often sidesteps dealing with tough issues. And it’s not unusual for important legislative provisions to be added at the last minute by powerful members without discussion or debate.

The result is the diminished, unproductive Congress we now see. Deliberation, openness, the give-and-take of a free society, the process of consulting with experts and those who might be affected by legislation, a Congress that squarely addresses the tough questions that need to be answered if we’re to move forward as a society—all have fallen victim to Congress’s abandonment of the regular order. And largely because of this, Congress no longer plays the role that our founders envisioned and our diverse, complex society needs.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that the regular order is flawless. Any process will have its problems, and even when it was observed, the regular order still put too much power in the hands of too few people.

But it was far better than the ad hoc, unpredictable, and often dysfunctional process we see now. Because once the regular order breaks down, democracy-defying habits like omnibus bills, sleight-of-hand legislating, and powerful leadership teams take hold.

And the result isn’t just an institution that no longer represents the American people. It’s also a bad product: legislation that isn’t vetted, doesn’t reflect a consensus among members, and often reveals itself to be unsustainable once it meets the real world.

In short, if you’ve got a bad process, you’re likely to create a bad result. A good process doesn’t ensure good results, but it definitely boosts the chances of getting to one.

We have two centuries of experience on Capitol Hill that have taught us how to run a legislature so that the voices of the American people can be reflected in the halls of power, multiple viewpoints get fair and respectful consideration, and ordinary legislators have a fair shot at influencing the results. Until we get back to that, no amount of tinkering with Congress will add up to much.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar at the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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How long can the federal debt keep rising?


By Lee H. Hamilton, former Congressman

A few months ago, the federal debt we have accumulated over the past decades crossed the $22 trillion mark. That’s a record. And it’s surely not going to be the last.

According to Congressional Budget Office estimates, annual federal deficits over the next decade—the deficit is the annual figure for how much more Congress and the president opt to spend than the government takes in as revenue — are expected to average $1.2 trillion. Overall, the debt held by the public amounts to about 78 percent of our gross domestic product.

That’s double what it was before the 2008 recession, and the CBO estimates that without significant changes, it’ll rise to 118 percent over the next 20 years, higher even than right after World War II.

Does this matter? Back when I was in Congress, I came away confused practically every time I listened to an economist offer an opinion. Some thought it mattered immensely. Others, not at all.

Indeed, I remember when the prospect of running a deficit of a few billion dollars caused fiscal experts to say we were facing fiscal catastrophe. They turned out to be wrong. The system has been able to carry heavier debt than we once thought. The problem is, all we know is that we’re okay so far; we have no idea when we suddenly won’t be.

Here’s a useful way to look at it. Interest on the debt is expected to hit $390 billion this year. We’re paying more in interest on the debt than we spend on our children, and we’re headed toward doing the same with defense. I doubt that fits the priorities of most Americans. And I don’t think it’s sustainable indefinitely. It may even be dangerous.

At a certain level, carrying such huge debt—and spending so much each year to pay off the interest — makes it harder for the government to respond to future challenges and raises the risk of an economic crisis with no gas in the tank left to accelerate out of it.

It may crowd out both public and private investment, because there’s less money for the government to invest in human capital or infrastructure, and private capital flows into government bonds rather than other avenues that might stoke economic growth. Or investors may decide that the U.S. government isn’t credit-worthy after all, and either push up interest rates or find a different currency to back, forcing the dollar’s value to plummet.

The bottom line is that ultimately government spending has to be paid for. Deficits don’t replace that need; they merely defer it.

The problem is that attacking yearly deficits is politically very difficult. They have to be addressed on both the spending and the revenue side—that is, with both spending cuts and tax increases—but there’s not much appetite in Washington for either. Even though politicians know full well that it’s not a question of whether we need to raise taxes or cut spending, just of when.

In the end, I believe strongly that the first rule for any policy-maker ought to be: Do no harm. This requires a shift in our thinking about spending policies: If something is really important to do, it’s worth paying for and not pushing the cost into the future and on to the backs of our children. If no one’s willing to do what it takes to pay for it, maybe it’s not as high a priority as its backers think.

Similarly, we need to get real about taxes. It’s hugely seductive to politicians to believe that tax cuts pay for themselves by boosting economic activity and hence tax revenues. There’s no evidence that this is how things work in the real world, however. Instead, deficits just keep increasing.

So do we need to panic? No. But we must not take the view that the question is irrelevant. Far better to begin now to address the problem gradually than to be forced into sudden and drastic measures by a crisis we all knew was coming, but didn’t have the will to forestall.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar at the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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Flowers stolen at cemetery


The Wainwright family is very disturbed by the actions that have taken place at Crandall Hill Cemetery—the recurrence of flowers being stolen year after year from our family’s gravesites. These are veterans who sacrificed for your freedom. You have no morals or respect for the deceased.

Sharon Magoon, on behalf of the Wainwright family

The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Writers are limited to one letter per month. 

Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to Post Scripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.


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To improve, Congress needs to look inward

Lee Hamilton

By Lee H. Hamilton

There are a lot of reasons why Congress finds itself hamstrung in Washington and discounted by the people it serves at home. But in the end, the demons Congress has to fight are its own. If it is to return to relevance, effectiveness, and higher standing in public opinion, the paths it must follow start on and wind through Capitol Hill.

For starters, Congress has gotten into some terrible legislative habits. The worst is the omnibus bill, which is emblematic of the deeply rooted issues Congress faces. These bills are thousands of pages long and they bypass pretty much the entire legislative process.

Good process is not about efficiency. It’s about bolstering your chances of getting things right. And that means handing authority back to individual members and to the committees so that what comes out of Congress can benefit from the creativity and insights of a wide range of talented politicians.

This step, however, requires another: Congress has to spend more time legislating. Its members work very hard, but not at legislating. Yet if the political and legislative process is a search for remedies to our nation’s problems, then it needs care and attention. Building expertise and finding consensus—even within one’s own party—takes patience, skill, perseverance…and a lot of time.

And honestly, if members of Congress can’t make the time to re-energize the practice of negotiation and compromise, then what hope is there? The definition of being a responsible lawmaker is to deal with divisions and to move the country forward anyway. Otherwise, each side just sits in its corner and maneuvers to beat the other at the next election and we, as a nation, spin in circles.

Finally, Congress needs to spend far more of its energy looking over the executive branch. The current hearings on the Mueller report highlight what’s been lacking: this kind of attention should be paid to every nook and cranny of government.

The point of all this is that without a functional Congress, we don’t have a functional representative democracy. I don’t expect all these things I’ve mentioned to be resolved easily or quickly. But I want to see Congress again become an institution we can be confident is playing a constructive role in our democracy. And until it gets its house in order, I don’t see how that will happen.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar at the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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Washington shouldn’t play games with senior care

As an 83-year old retired teacher with a bad gut and a bad heart, I count on Michigan’s elected officials to stand up for Medicare. Instead, Congress is stalling on two critical bills (H.R. 1398 and S. 172) that would suspend the Health Insurance Tax (HIT) and stop Medicare Advantage premiums from rising nearly $250 annually per senior. Unless Rep. Moolenar and Senators Stabenow and Peters step up, seniors like me will have to make hard choices between health insurance and other needs. Washington needs to understand that senior health care isn’t a game.

Richard Jackson – Sand Lake, MI

Member, Better Medicare Alliance Protect Our Care Senior Task Force

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What would make Congress better?

By Lee H. Hamilton, former Congressman

Lee Hamilton

A couple of weeks ago I was speaking to a group of students and decided to start with a point-blank question: Is Congress doing a good job? There were perhaps 100 people in the room, and not a single one raised his or her hand.

So I asked the question a different way: Is Congress nearly or completely dysfunctional? Most hands went up.

These were not experts, of course. They were simply reflecting a broad public consensus that things are not working well on Capitol Hill. But they weren’t wrong, either. Things aren’t working well on Capitol Hill.

I can tick off the problems, and so can you. Congress doesn’t follow good process. It seems to have lost the ability to legislate. It’s too polarized and partisan. It’s dominated by political gameplaying, and by the undue influence of money. It defers too readily to the president. Routine matters get bottled up. Its output is low, and it simply cannot pass a budget on time.

“What are the paths that will lead Congress back to relevance, effectiveness, and higher standing in public opinion?”—Lee Hamilton

In fact, there’s a lot it can’t get done: It can’t repair or replace Obamacare, it can’t take action on climate change, it can’t find its way to the grand bargain on fiscal reform that everyone wants, it can’t develop an education policy, it’s unable to address our cyber-security needs, strengthen gun laws, or mitigate extreme inequality.

To be sure, there are things that members of Congress do pretty well. They serve their constituents and are superb at reflecting their constituents’ views. Most are accessible, they understand what their constituents want, they’re adept at aligning themselves with their home districts or states and equally skilled at separating themselves from Congress as a whole. They know how to make themselves look good and the institution they serve look bad.

They’re also people of integrity and talent who want to advance the national interest as they understand it. They’re willing to work exhausting hours in an agitated, dysfunctional political environment. It’s frustrating to look out over Congress and see so many talented, well-meaning people who struggle to make the institution work well.

So what should they do, then? What are the paths that will lead Congress back to relevance, effectiveness, and higher standing in public opinion?

First, it needs to step up to its constitutional responsibilities. The Founders placed Congress first in the Constitution for a reason: it’s not just a co-equal branch, it’s the branch that most thoroughly represents the will and desires of the American people. Yet over the years Congress has kept ceding power to the president.

The Constitution explicitly gives Congress the power to declare war, yet military intervention is now the president’s choice. Congress — and the House specifically — is supposed to take the initiative in producing a budget, but it’s been many years since it exercised that power. Instead, the president submits a budget and Congress reacts.

Up and down the line, in fact, the president sets the agenda and then Congress responds to his proposals. It’s pretty hard to identify a congressional initiative within recent memory.

And it doesn’t just defer to the president. Congress leaves regulatory decisions to federal agencies, with very little oversight. It yields economic power to the Federal Reserve. It’s allowed the Supreme Court to become a central policy-making body on issues from campaign finance to affirmative action to environmental regulation.

And though recent stirrings of independence among both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are heartening, they’re just that: stirrings. It hasn’t come close to being a co-equal branch of government for a long time. So the first step toward reforming itself is to determine to become one.

In order to do so, however, it needs to attend to some serious internal housekeeping, from rehabilitating the way it goes about legislating to restoring the bedrock principles of good legislating, including negotiation and compromise. In my next commentary, I’ll address those needs in greater detail.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar at the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.


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Post Scripts

The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Writers are limited to one letter per month. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to Post Scripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

Agrees with apology

I’m writing to echo the apology written by the Rev. Kim DeLong that appeared in Postscripts on March 21. As an observer at the United Methodist Special General Conference held February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, I found myself embarrassed and sad. While a vast majority of delegates who live within the United States favored regional and local decision-making with regard to ordination and marriage, 80% of the delegates from outside the US denied this perogative. As we often say in the United Methodist Church, “context, context, context.” In my opinion, the outcome of the General Conference vote resulted from a combination of an uncompromising interpretation of scripture, and an arrogance that is uncharacteristic of one of the best features of United Methodism – our willingness to “live and let live” in matters non-essential. Most United Methodists agree that there is no uniformity among the seven or so passages of scripture that have been used in the last couple hundred years to de-humanize homosexuals. Rev. DeLong rightly describes United Methodism as a denomination founded on a rich tradition derived from looking at human life through the lens of grace. As a General Conference, we betrayed a history of social justice and holiness and we did indeed limit grace. The Conference elected to place a millstone around the neck of thousands of sisters and brothers created in God’s image who merely desire the experience of full humanity the rest of us enjoy. 

The future of the denomination remains uncertain; what is certain is that where there is death, there is resurrection. This week of all weeks, that is our hope.

Rev. Bill Johnson

Cedar Springs United Methodist Church

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How politics have changed


Lee H. Hamilton

By Lee H. Hamilton, former Congressman

I became active in politics in the late 1950s, got elected to Congress in 1964, and have remained engaged in one way or another every year since then. So I suppose I should not be surprised that I get asked a lot these days how American politics have changed over the last six decades.

A few things stand out. When I first arrived in Congress, Americans had faith in the institutions of government. President Lyndon Johnson ran on a platform that we could successfully wage a war on poverty — and was elected. It seems inconceivable now that a politician would be so bold and so naïve as to propose such a thing. Americans today have little confidence in government’s ability to deliver.

The second big difference is the extreme political intensity we see all around us. Almost every facet of politics is more complicated and pursued more vigorously, with a harder edge to it, than when I began. Politics has shifted from low-intensity conflict to big business — and very serious business, at that.

Meanwhile, the sharp polarization that marks our politics today has flourished. We’ve always had partisanship, but today it penetrates everything: the electorate, political parties, legislatures, Congress, and the White House.

Finally, the audience for politics has changed. When you spoke to the Rotary Club in southern Indiana in the 1960s, you were speaking to Rotary members in southern Indiana. Today, you could very well be speaking to the world.

This has all made the work of politics and governing more difficult. The basic building blocks of politics—gathering facts, deliberating on next steps, finding common ground—are charged in their own right, subject to partisan attack. Plain and simple, it’s become harder to make the country work.

When I began in politics, elected officials felt a responsibility to find their way through difficult problems together. They believed that compromise and negotiation were core political values, intrinsic to our democracy and crucial to making it work for everyone.

There are still plenty of politicians who believe this—but also plenty who do not, who have shown they can thrive in a political environment that stacks the deck against the shared work of finding common ground.

We’ve come a long way as a country over the last six decades. But when it comes to politics as a democratic endeavor to address the nation’s challenges? We’ve lost ground.

Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar at the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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Beware false info on petition


I was asked to sign a petition on Monday, so I took a look at it. It is a petition created by Gary Johnson, the former Solon Township supervisor that was recalled back in 2004. The petition is to “allow” high-density housing into Solon Township, which we already do. The person presenting the petition to me first told me that Solon Township was preventing building in the Township. I told him that was not true. The township was not preventing building but was slowing growth somewhat, looking towards better planning and requiring public sewer and water in high-density areas. He then asked if I wanted to sign the petition so that I could vote! I told him if it was on the ballot I could vote regardless of whether I signed his petition or not and I did not sign his petition. 

I would ask that no one sign the petition until you have all the facts. The township planning commission has studied the options and held public hearings on it and also voted to send it to the Township board for approval and the board approved it. It’s all part of the master plan. If this becomes a ballot question I would also ask that the voters of the Township stand with the Township Board and the planning commission.

Robert Ellick

Solon Township Supervisor

2004 to present

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