Citizens, not lobbyists, must answer on guns
(The Free Press – Mankato, Minn.)
On the same day President Obama was proposing a package of gun-control measures, Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken stated his support for limiting high-capacity ammunition clips and expanding background checks. But he omitted any reference to a ban on military-style weapons. When a reporter asked a Franken spokesman what gun restrictions the senator might support, the aide said "I guess I don't have an answer for you." Franken, who faces re-election in 2014, later said he wants to see the specifics in any legislation but supports a ban "on principle."
And there's the rub on how any of these initiatives will fare going forward. On some issues, Americans are somewhat in agreement. Even the president of the National Rifle Association on Thursday said the group was generally supportive of strong background checks on firearm purchases. A Pew Research survey found the majority of people -- gun owners and non-gun-owners -- favored such checks including insuring that people with mental illness cannot purchase weapons. And there is some support for putting more law enforcement in our schools.
But overall, we are a divided nation with roughly half believing in more controls on gun ownership with the other half wanting greater protection on gun ownership.
In determining how we should advance we found little concern -- and some encouragement -- in the 23 executive orders issued by the president.
The encouraging signs were those that addressed mental health issues. The order called for finalizing regulations "clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements with the ACA exchanges and committing to finalizing parity regulations." Those regulations have been long ignored.
Sadly what was omitted in the directives is any study or review on the effects of violent movies or computer games that may be contributing to the violent nature of our young society. This has been cited by many but is a woefully understudied aspect in the debate.
The challenge has been thrown down by the president to our legislators to develop the proper measures needed to curb of gun violence. There are many that will argue banning certain weapons or ammunition is merely punishing those who had nothing to do with gun violence while ignoring measures that clearly prevent criminal actions.
And on the flip side, there are credible arguments that restrictions on certain weapons is no more onerous on the Second Amendment than preventing people from falsely shouting "Fire!" in crowded theater impinges on the First Amendment. We just need to define more carefully what those acceptable restrictions are in today's society.
But debate we must, for in our representative form of government, the U.S. Senate should begin this debate using the directives of those they represent to fashion such laws that make up the kind of society in which we want to live. Citizens should add their voice to this debate. It's not an easy one and will require the Senate to listen to reasonable, rationale citizens -- not lobbyists -- to fashion an acceptable answer.
X x x x
Stop the routine budget crises
(The Daily Star – Oneonta, N.Y.)
House Republicans last week wisely backed off a threat to refuse to raise the federal debt ceiling, instead offering President Barack Obama a three-month extension of the government’s borrowing authority through April 15.
The GOP offer would also force a debate on taxes and spending in the spring, as the deal would withhold pay for both chambers of Congress if either fails to pass a budget.
The constitutionality of withholding Congress’ pay remains subject to debate, but regardless, the deal is clearly the most reasonable offer put forth on the issue by the House GOP, and one that Obama should consider. Unfortunately, the deal would set Washington up for another quixotic, market-rattling dance with fate three months down the road, because some lawmakers and pundits still don’t realize that the debt ceiling is not the ideal tool for extracting budget concessions.
The debt ceiling — which was raised 17 times on Ronald Reagan’s watch, four times under Bill Clinton, seven times under George W. Bush and three times since Obama took office — is not tied in any way to proposed future spending. It’s a limit on how much the government can borrow to pay existing bills, and using it as a bargaining chip does nothing to reduce federal spending. Refusing to budge on it is akin to tossing the credit-card bill into the furnace to teach one’s spouse about fiscal responsibility.
Polls show that a balanced budget is a high priority for most Americans, and yet the House GOP’s debt-ceiling brinkmanship has proven deeply