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Archive | Voices and Views

Why Incumbents Keep Getting Reelected

V-Lee-Hamilton-web

By Lee H. Hamilton

It’s no news that Congress is unpopular. In fact, at times it seems like the only real novelty on Capitol Hill would be a jump in its approval rating.

So here’s the interesting thing: nearly three-quarters of Americans want to throw out most members of Congress, including their own representative, yet the vast majority of incumbents will be returning to Capitol Hill in January. In other words, Americans scorn Congress but keep re-electing its members. How could this be?

The first thing to remember is that members of Congress didn’t get there by being lousy politicians. They know as well as you and I that Congress is unpopular, and they’re masters at running against it — appearing to be outsiders trying to get in, rather than insiders who produce the Congress they pretend to disdain.

Just as important, incumbents enjoy an overwhelming advantage in elections. They have a large staff whose jobs focus on helping constituents. They’re paid a good salary, so they don’t have to worry about supporting their families while they campaign. They get to spend their terms effectively campaigning year-round, not just at election time, and they are able to saturate their state or district with mass mailings.

Incumbents get the honored place in the parade, the prime speaking position, the upper hand when it comes to raising money; challengers have to fight for visibility and money. In fact, challengers are at a disadvantage at almost every point in a campaign. From building name recognition to arranging meetings to building credibility with editorial boards, donors, and opinion leaders, they’re trudging uphill.

But there’s another reason incumbents keep getting re-elected that’s also worth considering: voters — that’s you and me. Most Americans don’t vote, and those who do often cast their ballots for narrow or unusual reasons. They like the way they got treated by the incumbent’s staff, or they shook his or her hand at a county fair, or they like his or her stand on a particular social or economic issue. Whatever the case, they don’t look at an incumbent’s entire record: votes on a cross-section of vital issues; willingness to work with members of different ideologies and backgrounds; ability to explain Washington back home and represent home in Washington; skill at forging consensus on tough policy challenges.

It’s really no mystery that incumbent members get re-elected. Their advantages are baked into the system.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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Save money by going with Sheriff department

POST SRIPTS: 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. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to PostScripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

 

I am typically that person that doesn’t go to steps like writing a letter to my local newspaper but enough is enough. I recently attended a public meeting regarding the City entertaining the idea of contracting our police services to the Kent County Sherriff’s Department vs. maintaining a local police department.

I must admit that I agree with councilman Jerry Hall that it was a disappointing turnout, who I know is angered by the amount of tax dollars we pay, with barely over 30 residents attending.

In a July 13 Grand Rapids Press article it stated Walker has the lowest city tax in Kent, Ottawa Counties that was shared by a private citizen. It listed property tax based on a $150,000.00 house (summer tax bills).

 Walker – $666.20

Kentwood – $786.50

Ferrysburg – $802.98

Zeeland – $835.16

Grandville – $838.50

Hudsonville – $842.27

Rockford – $883.50

Wyoming – $959.05

Coopersville – $1,057.30

Grand Haven – $1,077.00

East GR – $1,137.68

Cedar Springs – $1,224.10

Holland – $1,253.80

Lowell – $1,261.29

Grand Rapids – $1,436.39

*Walker and Grand Rapids levy property and income tax.

Something is seriously wrong with the City of Cedar Springs having these high taxes!

I have been a Cedar Springs resident for over 30 years. We have three teenage daughters and purchased a home in the city limits in 2013. I received my summer tax bill and almost needed our community rescue squad to come and save me. We purchased our home, which was built in 1969, for $99,900.00 and my summer tax bill exceeded $1,800.00.

The downtowns of Rockford, Grandville, East Grand Rapids compared to ours? We pay more taxes than those communities and my question remains, for what? Our roads are full of potholes, roads not plowed well in the winter, sidewalks are in terrible condition and overall our downtown looks shabby at best, especially considering the large amount of tax dollars that are pouring into city hall.

I attended a city council meeting a while back where Councilmember Patty Troost stated that there were over 80 foreclosures in the City of Cedar Springs. No kidding Patty, who can afford to live here?

Patty Troost also tried to calculate savings at the informational meeting, stating it was roughly only $5.35 savings per person. This was proven incorrect by the City Treasurer.

Kent County Sheriff and his team did a great presentation. The City can design the program as they see fit. Any savings to a town that is only 2 square miles and has a tax bill like ours, let me say emphatically, City Council it’s time to partner with the Sheriff’s department and save money!

Simple mathematics shows the potential savings by going with the Sherriff’s department is at a minimum $120,000.00. Over the next 10 years that is over $1 million dollars in savings!

So I ask again, where is the question?

Laurie Nozal, 

Cedar Springs

 

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Exercise your right to vote

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

 

 

Dear Editor,

Election season is upon us, with phone calls, door to door campaigning, and more mailers than anyone wants. While I share the inevitable eye rolling at some of the claims, I want to point something out to my fellow citizens of Cedar Springs. When you choose not to vote, you are allowing others, who were not elected by you and may not share your views, to make decisions for you. We are a city of approximately 3,500 residents. There have been times when less than 200 people have voted. Did these people represent your interests? Have they shared your concerns and struggles?

Many people feel that their votes do not count, but I would counter that statement with the question: “then why do politicians spend so much money on advertising?” Some pay more money than people like us will ever see in a lifetime. The answer is because your vote is priceless. It is one of the few things that cannot be bought; it can only be given.

I have heard still others say that they leave that to people who may be smarter than they are. Intelligence is not measured in diplomas. No amount of education can compete with life experience. Your experience is unique and cannot be duplicated or replaced. It is valuable and necessary for the community to hear from many points of view to come to the decision that is best.

Perhaps there are time constraints that prevent people from voting. Citizens are within walking distance and can register to vote at Cedar Springs City Hall, or at any branch of the Secretary of State. We all manage to renew our license plates and driver’s licenses; it is less than an additional 60 seconds to register to vote as well. I have frequently brought my young daughter with me to vote. The team that runs elections at City Hall has never taken long enough for her to get restless.

This last week we celebrated the Fourth of July. I challenge each and every one of you to do the truly patriotic thing and vote.

Thank you for your time,

Molly Nixon, Cedar Springs

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Are we doomed to polarization? 

V-Lee-Hamilton-web

By Lee H. Hamilton

We Americans are trapped in a political dilemma. We all like representative democracy, but we don’t much like the way it’s performing.

The reason for this dissatisfaction is clear. Polls in recent years detail a polarized nation, divided both ideologically and politically. In the public’s eye, Washington gets most of the blame for this.

Yet Congress and the political world around it reflect the rest of the country more than we’d like to believe. Our nation is divided ideologically. And though we deplore negative politics, we respond to it and even encourage our favorite partisans to engage in it. Anyone who becomes President today does so with nearly half the country opposed to him the day he takes office. Moreover, we face a long list of issues where decisive action may be impossible, from abortion, to gun control, to immigration. These issues divide the nation, with no clear path forward.

Our admired political system, in other words, is not working well. So how do we resolve our dilemma?

Several procedural steps could ease the gridlock on Capitol Hill. Among them, the House and Senate could begin by scheduling themselves so that they’re in session at the same time. Congressional leaders and the President ought to meet at least once a month. Open primaries would help moderate the nation’s politics, as would bipartisan redistricting commissions capable of doing away with gerrymandered districts. Increasing voter participation and improving the integrity of our elections would also help. Limiting the Senate filibuster would open up debate and forestall endless stalemates.

It’s worth remembering that American politics is dynamic, not static. Change occurs, sometimes quickly, but more often slowly. We won’t forever be this evenly divided, because public opinion will eventually evolve and the system will respond.

Which raises my final point. Even when our frustration with division and discord spills over into impatience with the system itself, our obligations as American citizens remain the same. We face complex problems that demand a willingness to exercise the values of representative democracy: tolerance, mutual respect, accepting ideological differences, working to build consensus. Our core values accept that the differences in opinions among us will continue, but also compel us to find a way through them so the country can move forward. In the end, we created our political dilemma and are responsible for working our way through it.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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Stop the childish actions

To the Editor:

First, let me thank all you good friends for the wonderful support you gave Bob during the past few months. It is truly appreciated.

Bob is a man with honesty and integrity that is beyond question. He loves his city and only wants to see us progress to be a more friendly, transparent City Government, moving forward with plans for the new library, community building, gym, a beautiful green space with the flowing well, and perhaps, even a new fire barn! Not five years from now, but in the very near future.

With one more verbal attack on Bob, at the June council meeting, I felt it was time for me to write my first letter to the editor.

The attack came after Bob stated that he would like to see the City quit spending money on attorney fees regarding the closed session and the recall effort, as he had forgiven the actions of the council in 2013.  A council member then said she wanted the lies to stop, because his wife (meaning me) had collected signatures on the recall issue. I did collect signatures—but as a private citizen of Cedar Springs and without Bob’s support.

The attacks began with the closed session that was held on July 11, 2013. The members of City Council decided among themselves to call for the closed session. The contents of the meeting are secret, but let me quote from an article in the Cedar Springs Post dated July 18, 2013. “While council members, including the mayor, cannot talk about what is discussed in closed session, the news on the street is that council members have not been happy with recent editorials that Mayor Bob Truesdale has put in the Post, especially one where he talked about the problem of brush in the city right of ways, and the fact that there was no money in the budget to pick it up until the next pick up in the fall.” Not one of the council  members came to Bob and asked him to refrain from writing editorials. They chose to use, what I call, the mafia approach, and collectively beat on him.

And then in November, he wrote a very private e-mail to one of the council members.  Rather than come to Bob and discuss it privately, it was taken to the new mayor, who orchestrated a meeting at City Hall, which was to be just him and Bob. It turned out to be many more than that, and so Bob refused to walk into another hostile situation. The mayor then called for a special meeting, where this private e-mail was made public to the standing room only crowd who attended. Bob’s response to the harassment was, I should not have written the e-mail, but contacted the council member personally. He had also written an apology, which was not read at the special meeting.

Bob’s desire is that the citizens of Cedar Springs be informed of the happenings at City Hall. I have personally heard the new mayor say on several occasions, “What happens in the council chambers, should stay in the council chambers.” What ever happened to the First amendment to the constitution? One of the reasons our founding fathers wrote the First amendment was to make sure, that in our present day, tax paying citizens of our municipalities were made aware of what is going on in local government.

I would personally like to see some of our council members be more professional. When name-calling and harassment are practiced, rolling of eyes and smirking are evident, it is very unprofessional.  Let’s put personal likes and dislikes aside and work for the good of the community.

As one lady wrote in a letter to the editor. “Cedar Springs needs a leader with plain old common sense. I’m not a common sense type of person, but have enough wisdom to realize that to run a successful city, business, or anything, common sense is a requisite of great value. Mr. Truesdale would have made a very, very good Mayor. He is honest and blessed with common sense.” That is why our City Charter needs to be changed, so we the people decide who we want for Mayor.

The letter writer added: “There was a comment as a reason for not voting for Mr. Truesdale. The reason came from a piece of gossip:  ‘Mr. Truesdale didn’t believe women should be on the council.’ It does give one pause. That’s a good reason?”

And again, the person accusing Bob of not wanting women on the council, did not contact him, but chose to believe a bit of gossip, which is not true. Let me remind that person, it was Bob who nominated a woman to be the mayor of our fair city. He does not, nor has he ever, put women in a lesser position of authority then men.

So why am I writing my very first letter to the editor? Because I have had enough of the childish actions of some of our City Council members. Let’s put our minds to making our city a better place to live.

Respectfully submitted,

Betty L. Truesdale, Cedar Springs

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

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The Lesson Congress should learn from the VA scandal

By Lee H. Hamilton

V-Lee-Hamilton-webLike other federal scandals before it, the mess involving VA hospitals has followed a well-trod path. First comes the revelation of misdoing. Then comes the reaction: a shocked public, an administration on the defensive, and grandstanding members of Congress. Finally, major reform bills get introduced, debated, and then put aside when the heat dies down, or the target agency gets more money thrown at the problem.

With the VA, we’re at the reform part of the cycle. In its rush to address public outrage, Congress is proposing dramatic changes that could have benefited from more thorough consideration.

The irony is that this need not have happened—not with the VA, nor with the IRS, or FEMA, or any of the other cases in recent years where the federal bureaucracy proved to be dysfunctional and Congress rushed in with a half-baked fix. Mostly what is needed is for Congress to do its job properly in the first place.

This means exercising its oversight responsibilities and catching problems before they mushroom. Diligent oversight can repair unresponsive bureaucracies, expose misconduct, and help agencies and departments become more effective.

To do this, Congress first needs to know what’s happening. Performance, budget, personnel, management challenges, major and minor problems: members of Congress ought to be experts on all of this. Understanding the facts, working cooperatively with the federal agency, and anticipating problems is a far more useful approach than Congress’s usual pattern of throwing up its hands at a scandal and blaming everyone else for the problem.

Congress must also get serious about reforming the federal bureaucracy. Federal employees deserve to feel they’re being listened to, respected, and treated fairly, but management also must have flexibility to hire and fire, and to handle personnel problems constructively.

If Congress wants federal agencies to work better, it has to work tirelessly to understand problems and help repair them. It cannot eliminate politics from this oversight process, but politics should not drive the whole oversight enterprise.

The point is that many failures of the federal bureaucracy can be avoided with robust congressional oversight. It’s a crucial part of improving the performance of government, and Congress has a duty to get ahead of problems, not lag constantly behind. Unless it’s willing to accept its responsibility for diligent oversight, the next scandal is only a matter of time.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

 

 

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Questions and Answers

 

 

Vonda VanTil

Vonda VanTil

By: Vonda VanTil, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

Question: I lost my Social Security card, but I remember my number. Do I really need a new card?

 

Answer: No, probably not—but it is important to know your number. The only time you may need the Social Security card is if your employer asks for it when you get a new job. If you do decide to get a new card or your lost one turns up, don’t carry it with you. Keep it with your other important documents. Generally, you are limited to three replacement cards a year and 10 cards during your lifetime. Legal name changes and other exceptions do not count toward these limits. Keep in mind this is a free service. Learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber.

 

Question: I noticed that my date of birth in Social Security’s records is wrong. How do I get that corrected?

 

Answer: To change the date of birth shown on our records, take the following steps:

Complete an Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5); 

Show us documents proving:

U.S. citizenship (if you have not previously established your citizenship with us);

Age; and

Identity; and

Take (or mail) your completed application and documents to your local Social Security office.

 

Note that all documents must be either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. We cannot accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents. For details on the documents you’ll need, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/ss5doc.

 

Question: What type of information will I need to provide if I’d like to apply online for Social Security retirement benefits?

 

Answer: Whether you apply for retirement benefits online, by phone or in an office, we suggest that you have the following information at hand when you do it—it will make completing the application easier for you.

Your birthdate, place of birth and Social Security number;

Your bank account number and your bank’s routing number, for direct deposit;

The amount of money you earned last year and this year. If you are applying for benefits in the months of September through December, you may also need to provide an estimate of what you expect to earn next year if you plan to continue working;

The name and address of your employer(s) for this year and last year;

The beginning and ending dates of any active military service you had prior to 1968; and

The name, Social Security number and date of birth of your current and any former spouses.

Depending on your situation, you may need to provide additional documentation with your application. We’ll give you instructions on how to mail or bring it to us. To get started, visit our Retirement Planner at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2.

 

Question: I am 65 and my wife is 62 and receiving spouse’s benefits. When will she qualify for Medicare benefits?

 

Answer: Most people must wait until age 65 to qualify for Medicare benefits. Some people can get Medicare at any age, including those who:

Have been getting Social Security disability benefits for 24 months or more;

Have kidney failure and require dialysis;

Have had a kidney transplant; or

Receive disability benefits because they suffer from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).

You can apply online for Medicare at www.socialsecurity.gov/medicareonly.

 

Question: What are the requirements for receiving disabled widow’s benefits?

 

Answer: You may be able to get disabled widow(er)’s benefits at age 50 if you meet Social Security’s disability requirement. Your disability must have started before age 60 and within seven years of the latest of the following dates: the month the worker died; the last month you were entitled to survivors benefits on the worker’s record as a parent caring for a surviving minor child; the month your previous entitlement to disabled widow(er)’s benefits ended because your disability ended. To learn more, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/dibplan/dqualify9.htm.

 

Question: I understand that to get Social Security disability benefits, my disability must last at least a year or be expected to result in death. But I’m disabled now. Does this mean that I must wait a year after becoming disabled before I can receive benefits?

 

Answer: No. You do not have to wait a year after becoming disabled. If you’re disabled and expect to be out of work for at least a year, you should apply for disability benefits right away. It can take months to process an application for disability benefits. If we approve your application, your first Social Security disability benefit will be paid for the sixth full month after the date your disability began. For more information about Social Security disability benefits, refer to Disability Benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.

 

Question:  If I get approved, how much will I receive in Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits?

 

Answer: The amount of your SSI benefit depends, in part, on the amount of other income you have. For 2014, the basic, maximum federal SSI payment is $710 per month for an individual and $1,082 per month for a couple. However, some states add money to the basic payment. Other monthly income you have would begin to reduce the basic SSI payment. Other things, such as where you live and who you live with, can affect your payment amount. Learn more about SSI by reading SSI publications at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs. Enter “SSI” in the search box.

 

Question: I moved in with my parents until I get back on my feet. Why did my Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment decrease?

 

Answer: If you receive SSI, your living arrangements can affect your monthly payment. When you live in another person’s home and do not pay your fair share of the living expenses, that is counted as “in-kind” income and can reduce your SSI payment. You must report any changes in your living arrangement to Social Security within 10 days of the change. When reporting a change in living arrangement, you need to tell us your address, who you live with and what you contribute toward the household bills and expenses. You also need to report if you move into a private or public hospital or nursing home, an institution run by the government, jail, another person’s home or a new place of your own. Report changes in your living arrangement at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Learn more about SSI and the things you need to report when you get it at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi.

 

Question: I thought there were just two parts to Medicare, but my mom said there are more. How many parts to Medicare are there?

 

Answer: There are four parts to Medicare:

Part A (hospital insurance) helps pay for inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing care, hospice care and other services;

Part B (doctor insurance) helps pay for doctors’ fees, outpatient hospital visits and other medical services and supplies that are not covered by Part A;

Part C (Medicare Advantage) plans, available in some areas, allow you to choose to receive all of your health care services through a provider organization. These plans may help lower your costs of receiving medical services, or you may get extra benefits for an additional monthly fee. You must have Part A and Part B to enroll in Part C; and

Part D (prescription drug coverage) is voluntary and helps cover the costs of prescription medications. Unlike Part B in which you are automatically enrolled and must opt out if you do not want it, with Part D you have to opt in by filling out a form and enrolling in an approved plan.

 

Learn more about Medicare by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs. Select the “Medicare” topic.

 

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What our country needs from the press

 

V-Lee-HamiltonBy Lee H. Hamilton

 

These days, the scandal involving long wait times at VA hospitals can feel like some made-in-Washington spectacle generated by politicians looking for headlines. But it isn’t. It had its genesis in a late-April report on CNN that as many as 40 veterans may have died waiting for appointments at VA hospitals in Phoenix.

This investigative piece was notable for two reasons. It’s been a while since anews story so quickly provoked such a storm of public indignation that a cabinet secretary—deservedly or not—had no choice but to resign. And it’s a reminder of just how important old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting remains to our system of government, especially when it uncovers official misdoing.

One of the basic truths about our representative democracy is that it does not work without solid information. Public officials, both elected and appointed, need to know what’s happening in the communities they serve, and the people who live in those communities need to know what the government they elect and fund is doing in their name.

A lot of forces try to distort that flow of information, or even block it altogether—from officials who aren’t living up to our expectations to politicians counting on public ignorance to lobbyists and advocates hoping to sway public opinion. This is why the press—and by this I mean print, broadcast and online journalists—is so crucial to our country’s health. It is, or ought to be, a steady, dispassionate, truth-seeking, skeptical and tough-minded force for public understanding.

In an ideal world, our media would focus on the serious side of the news. It would explore and highlight the substance of issues, not simply the politics of issues. It would detail the facts underlying a story, rather than dwelling on the personalities at play in the story. There is a place for entertainment that plays off the news—as people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have amply demonstrated—but in their search for an audience, news executives shouldn’t let it become a substitute for dogged reporting and the traditional values of accuracy, truth and fairness.

These are not easy times for journalists, however. I don’t pretend to understand all the forces that are reshaping what we see, hear and read in the news media, and I know that news executives are struggling with a host of formidable economic and social challenges.

These days, only a handful of news organizations in the country have the resources — both human and financial — to spend weeks or months chasing an investigation. Given the cuts that have stripped newsrooms of the expertise they once contained, I sometimes wonder whether the kind of reporting that brought us Watergate and uncovered the Enron scandal could still occur.

Because make no mistake: we need maximum oversight. You and I need it if we’re to be certain that misdeeds cannot hide in the darker corners of government. And Congress needs it if it’s to carry out one of its core responsibilities: overseeing the operations of government. All of us rely on the press to check abuses of power, see that laws are properly implemented, hold officials accountable, and tell those officials when their policies and operations are failing or going astray. Without a strong independent press, those in power could simply tell us what they want us to know and we’d be none the wiser. And that is no state of affairs for a democracy.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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Get ready for more of the same

V-Lee-Hamilton-web

By Lee H. Hamilton

 

I felt a brief surge of hope a few weeks ago about Congress. It was returning from Easter recess, and Capitol Hill was filled with talk about immigration reform, a minimum-wage bill, a spending bill to keep the government operating, and maybe even funding for transportation infrastructure. But, as I said, it was brief.

That’s because the talk turned out to be just that. Immigration reform appears headed nowhere. Likewise, tax reform and budgetary discipline. The minimum-wage increase died in the Senate. Shoring up the Highway Trust Fund, which could go bankrupt at the end of  summer, requires either massive new spending or a hefty rise in the gasoline tax — and Congress, of course, is inclined to do neither. The one step it appears ready to take is to approve a short-term spending bill, and that’s only because no one in either party wants to risk the public outrage that would attend a government shutdown right before an election.

Sure, with this year’s congressional elections fast approaching, neither party wants to force its members into tough votes. Yet listening to each party in Congress, it’s hard to imagine that they inhabit the same country. And that doesn’t seem likely to change as a result of the mid-term elections.

As a nation, we face a lot of challenges we’re not addressing. Immigration reform, tax reform, trade liberalization, reforming the International Monetary Fund — all need congressional action. So do the nation’s armed services and the Defense Department, which face serious cuts because of sequestration. Climate change isn’t even on the congressional agenda.

Which is why local governments are trying to deal with a global issue by passing zoning laws and ordinances. Indeed, congressional inaction is spurring states to cancel planned summer bridge- and road-repair projects, and big-city mayors to fill the national power vacuum by going ahead with their own minimum-wage measures, tax increases, and other initiatives designed to legislate where Congress won’t.

Here’s my fear. Congress is already derided at home as bumbling and ineffective. The perception abroad is even more worrisome: Capitol Hill’s inability to act is seen as a key piece of America’s decline as a superpower. If we’ve got several more years of drift and dysfunction ahead of us, then the institution that our founders considered to be the keystone of American democracy risks becoming not part of the solution, but the core of the problem.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

 

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Give your mom some Extra Help

Vonda VanTil

Vonda VanTil

By: Vonda VanTil, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

 

Mother’s Day is right around the corner. It’s always nice to give Mom a card, flowers or candy, but this year, people all over the country are helping their moms save an estimated $4,000 annually on the cost of Medicare prescription drugs. You can help your mom too—and it won’t cost you a dime.

If your mother has Medicare coverage and has limited income and resources, she may be eligible for Extra Help—available through Social Security—to pay part of her monthly premiums, annual deductibles and prescription co-payments.

To figure out whether your mother is eligible, Social Security needs to know her income and the value of her savings, investments and real estate (other than the home she lives in). To qualify for the Extra Help, she must receive Medicare and have:

Income limited to $17,235 for an individual or $23,265 for a married couple living together. Even if your mom’s annual income is higher, she still may be able to get some help. Some examples where income may be higher include if she and, if married, her spouse:

—Support other family members who live with them;

—Have earnings from work; or

—Live in Alaska or Hawaii.

Resources limited to $13,440 for an individual or $26,860 for a married couple living together. Resources include such things as bank accounts, stocks and bonds. We do not count her house or car as resources.

We have an easy-to-use online application that you can help mom complete. You can find it at www.socialsecurity.gov/prescriptionhelp. To apply by phone or have an application mailed to you, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask for the Application for Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs (SSA-1020).

To learn more about the Medicare prescription drug plans and special enrollment periods, visit www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227; TTY 1-877-486-2048).

Vonda VanTil is the public affairs specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp St NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov  

 

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