Monday, August 4, 2014


It isn’t very often than any individual, company or government gets everything wrong simultaneously.  But the members of Congress, clinging fiercely to ideology, expediency and cynicism, are doing so regularly.  There can be no better illustration than the pathetically ignorant and immoral “solution” fashioned this week to forestall the pending insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund.
No thinking person – Democrat, Republican or Unicorn – can possibly believe that encouraging companies to further shortchange already inadequately financed pension plans is a sensible approach to funding highway construction. Nevertheless, that’s what Congress just did, before rushing off to an ill deserved “vacation”.   
Anyone who pays attention to public affairs knows that the US has been seriously underfunding maintenance of the country’s physical infrastructure for many years.  We spend roughly half as much, as a percentage of GDP, on infrastructure maintenance as most developed countries.  The Highway Trust Fund, which provides a large percentage of the money needed to sustain and expand our roads, is supported by a federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, which has not been increased since 1993.  Since building and maintaining our roads is more expensive now than when the tax was last increased, the Trust Fund is expected to run out of money at the end of August. Should that happen, about 600,000 jobs will be lost as highway construction and maintenance projects across the country shut down.

Shutting down projects that are providing good  jobs is bad for the re-election prospects of incumbents,  so Congress went looking for a way to keep those projects going – without raising taxes (perceived as bad by politicians) or increasing the deficit (also perceived as  bad by politicians) .  To accomplish its goal, Congress  decided to make another problem even worse than it already is—counting on the fact that most of us won’t notice and even if we do, won’t do anything about our outrage. 
To prevent the Trust Fund from running dry, Congress authorized the transfer of $10 Billion from the General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund.  Normally, increasing the government’s expenses by paying for road building would count as an increase in the deficit. However, since most members lack the courage to acknowledge that truth, Congress decided to “finance” the fund transfer by allowing corporations to make smaller pension contributions under certain circumstances.  Doing so allows Congress to forecast larger corporate profits and increased tax receipts, thus – theoretically – covering the cost of the payment to the Highway Trust fund.   
Since smaller pension contributions now will mean higher contributions later, arguing that such an arrangement generates additional revenue for the government is nonsensical.  Moreover, since many pension plans are already underfunded, and since the government agency responsible for replacing benefits owed by failed pension plans -- the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation ( PBGC)—is itself in financial difficulty, allowing more plans to be more underfunded is clearly contrary to common sense.   Nonetheless, because underfunded pension plans make news only when they actually go broke, Congress feels confident that its chicanery will go unnoticed and has proceeded to “solve” the problem of a depleted Highway Trust Fund by making the pension funding problem worse.
This nonsensical legerdemain is extraordinarily troubling and goes on only because most citizens pay little attention to what Congress does.  Even fewer write, call, or otherwise complain about irresponsible behavior. 
Every member of Congress knows that this “solution” to the Highway Trust Fund’s illiquidity is both illusory and fraudulent.   Each member, whatever their ideology, knows that without world class infrastructure, our country cannot create or sustain the constantly growing economy needed to sustain the US way of life. Each member, by participating in such charades, makes a mockery of the leadership he or she pledged to provide when seeking office. 
Until a larger percentage of our citizens realize that our government isn’t working well, the US is not going to find solutions to the many great issues that challenge us  --infrastructure, education, energy, research and development, immigration, inequality, taxation, debt, you name it.  While these are all hard problems – requiring careful thought and serious deliberation – they are no more difficult than other problems we have faced and overcome in times past.  Solutions are not beyond us, but will surely continue to elude us until we choose our leaders more wisely and pay more careful attention to what those leaders are doing.  Those who choose to lead must be held accountable for getting things right, but so far, seem to be doing just the opposite.


  1. I once worked for a CEO, and a supervisor that always had on open door policy for dealing with problems that affected the company. All they asked was if you know what the problem is, you also know what the solution was, and they wanted both!

    Since the advent of Citizens United, the corporate world has succeeded in the "Dumbing down of America", to get labor to work for 3rd world wages, with the full support of the government which they bought. Success in the business world was all about stock price, and no longer about the success of the business as a whole.
    The whole world has been turned upside down, by the greed of business.
    NAFTA,CAFTA, and all the other "trade agreements" have done nothing for this country, except enrich those on the top of the corporate chain.
    Congress has lost sight of it's own mandate to be the voice of the people, and succumbed to the wealth of a self serving body.
    Until the citizens of this country rise up and elect people who will serve the public,
    we will see no change except further decline.

  2. The basic problem is Congress is filled with lawyers and politicians. They only do one thing well. Spend other peoples money! All any are interested in when they get elected to a first term is getting elected to more terms.After that it is just catering to the people who fund their elections. We need a Congress that with actually work for their mandate "to defend the constitution of the United States", and not circumvent their responsibility and give away the powers of the legislature, to a President.
    We must elect people that will maintain the "balance of power" of the Presidency,
    Legislature, and Judiciary! The path of the last 2 administrations is nothing but an abdication of Congress to maintain it's authority.
    The President and by it's ability to appoint Judges in the Supreme Court, cannot rewrite the US Constitution to it's liking.
    Our rule of law has existed for over 200 yrs and served the country well.
    It is not a "rule of men" who may disagree with those laws and rewrite them to their liking.

  3. Good thinking Bob. Wish you were running our government.

    gordon bethune

  4. Eve, you are getting off the subject, but since you brought it up. Watch the Roosevelt's, They believed if it wasn't in the Constitution it could be done and they did, Thank God. The current politicians especially the GOP muddies the water with gun rights, waving the flag, Constitution baloney, lawsuits and constant attacks on the ACA. etc. The current bull is ASIL where the GOP wants to unnecessarily raise the defense budget to pay back the industrial military complex corporations.

  5. Hello Bob,

    "British Airways had flown from London to the capital cities of Sierra Leone and Liberia – two of the nations hit hardest by the current Ebola outbreak – but suspended those routes in August as the outbreak worsened."

    From a news story ^^ I was wondering if you still have any contacts in the industry, have you asked them why they are still transporting potential walking disease incubators out of affected areas and into our country.

  6. Sounds like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Anyway, pension funds are in real danger of going bankrupt. According to Moodys, pension plans are short $110 billion over the next 7 years. The PBGC is in the red for $62 billion . Something tells me pensioners are going to take a beating. For a more detailed explanation, please google "David Stockmans Contra Corner / Another hidden fiscal time bomb: Pension Guarantee Fund 62 billion in red"

    1. And in the latest Omnibus(t) bill, a provision was inserted to allow the PBGC to cut pension payments which will allow them to remain solvent. It has been reported that cuts could be up to 60%. Sorry pensioners, congress will bail out their bankster friends in the trillions of $ but I guess the rest of us don't rate. Be careful who you vote for. Next up on the bankruptcy roll will be the Social Security Disability Fund sometime around 2016. No doubt congress will rob the SS Retirement Fund to keep the disability fund alive for another year so it does not become an election year issue. More smoke and mirrors and then let the new guy" fix" it in 2017. I'm afraid to see what's going to happen when the Retirement Fund gets depleted. Not that there is any cash in it now. It's all IOU's from the U S Treasury. But Republicans have a plan. Give it to Wall St. to churn and burn. I can't wait to see that smoke and mirrors accounting game but at least when it's all lost, congress can shift the blame away from themselves. The problem is too many promises have been made and they were not payed for, so now we are going to pay for it the hard way. Good luck everybody.

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