Let’s be honest, no one enjoys paying taxes. While that might be the understatement of the century, it’s worth pointing out now that tax season is upon us once again. April is typically enjoyed for other, more enjoyable seasons, like the return of spring or Major League Baseball. Unfortunately, a lot of Americans spend a significant amount of time figuring out whether a return is headed their way or if they’ve struck out with the IRS and will need to write a check to Uncle Sam [Senator John Thune, column, 2017.04.14].
Senator John Thune fielded questions from fourteen citizens during his town hall in Aberdeen today. You can view most of the questions and responses, along with most of Senator Thune’s opening remarks, in this YouTube playlist consisting of 17 separate videos. I’m happy to offer fourteen of Thune’s responses in the clips below. (I missed one follow-up about the draft—Thune says no, there won’t be one, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that NSA chief H.R. McMaster keeps cleaning house and ups Trump’s meds to make sure no draft is needed.)
1. Guns and Butter: Asked what data indicate that we need to trade services for the elderly, education, and other social programs to increase military spending, Senator Thune says that if we don’t have guns, we won’t have any butter:
2. NEH, NEA, and Public Broadcasting: Asked about the cuts the Trump budget would make to the national Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Thune dodges, saying the budget has to get through Congress:
3. Federal Workforce and Pensions: Different topic, similar dodge: Thune says he doubts we’ll see the 17% cuts that the questioner says the Trump budget would wreak on federal workers and their pensions, but he doesn’t say he’ll defend federal workers and retirees from such cuts.
5. Goodbye, Filibuster; Hello, Gorsuch: Thune gives perhaps his only direct rebuttal of the day, challenging the questioner’s claim that his vote last week to change the rules to end filibusters on Supreme Court nominations to pave the way for putting Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court with fewer than 60 votes. Thune says Democrats started it in 2003 by filibustering ten Bush II judicial nominees; Republicans followed in 2013 by filibustering two of Obama’s judicial nominees, to which Democrats responded by changing the rules on filibusters for lower court nominees. Democratic Senators Kaine and Reid promised last fall to undo filibusters on Supreme Court nominees, so the change was inevitable, regardless of who won the White House and the Senate. Thune contends that the filibuster has rarely been used on Supreme Court nominees, so the repeal of its use really restores the Senate to the way things were done long before today’s partisan squabbles. [So Democrats, the lesson here: don’t squabble about procedure; just keep hammering Thune and the Trumpublicans on the real harms their policies do to rural America!]
6. Budgets vs. Continuing Resolutions: Thune says we’ll get the budget for Fiscal Year 2017 (which began over six months ago) done by the end of April… or maybe a little later.
7. More Military Spending: More guns. More bombs. Count on it.
8. Why Syria? Thune says we attacked Syria last week to send three messages: to Assad, that he better not use chemical weapons again (or what—we’ll put burn marks on another set of runways?); to our allies, that America really is ready to lead (lead where? chaos? a deeper refugee crisis which we are unwilling to ameliorate?); and to North Korea, Russia, and other provocateurs, that… well, “we’ll see what comes of it.”
9. Let the IRS Do Its Job: Thune admits that, along with his magical incantations of growth (“We must! We must! We must increase our GDP!”), it might not be a bad idea to make sure the Internal Revenue Service has the resources to collect taxes.
10. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Thune doesn’t say kill the CFPB, but he sure wants to rein it in:
11. Dodd-Frank Overkill:Thune characterizes the CFPB and Dodd-Frank banking reforms coming out of the recession as typical “over-reaction,” “overkill,” and a “sledgehammer” that imposes “tremendous” (careful! Trump is contagious!) costs on banks and small:
12. Big Sioux? What Pollution? Darned Obama! Pressed to say how he’ll help improve water quality in the highly polluted Big Sioux River, Thune insists South Dakota is blessed with “fairly pristine” conditions relative to other places, then pivots to gripe about the discarded Obama Waters of the U.S. rule. You know, John, Obama isn’t President anymore. You are the Republican White House are going to have to start owning and fixing problems.
13. Red Tape, Wetlands, and Roads: A guy asks about cutting red tape so counties could drain wetlands and build roads faster and cheaper. The proper conservationist response is, “Hold your horses! Wetlands are good for fishing, hunting, wildlife, and water quality downstream in the Big Sioux like that lady asked about!” The John Thune response is a gentle, noncommittal ramble about making it easier to build infrastructure.
The town hall showed no sign of the open outrage and disruptive protest that marked town halls in other states earlier this year. There was a brief surge of contentious yaying and booing following the question about the filibuster and Gorsuch. Otherwise, dissent took the form of tough questions about the real impacts of Trump budget cuts on South Dakota, with our senior Senator calmly avoiding taking a position either for his constituents or his President. Avoiding taking a position—that’s the kind of leadership we get from South Dakota Republicans.
Senator John Thune held a one-hour town hall for about 90 interested citizens here in Aberdeen today. I’ll post video of the fourteen questions he fielded shortly, but first, here are his opening comments on agriculture, boosting GDP growth, and spending more on guns.
Cutting taxes and regulations and wishing for yesteryear’s GDP growth seems an awfully thin policy agenda. But don’t be scared of John Thune’s lack of policy vision. Be scared of the world, which is “increasingly dangerous,” and which we must confront by buying more guns:
I would agree that the world is more dangerous with Donald Trump in charge of armed cruise missiles. I would disagree with Senator Thune that the proper solution is to spend more money on national security. Actually, with Donald Trump’s finger on the button, the proper solution to global danger could be to spend much less on things Donald Trump can launch and detonate.
We’ll hear more from Thune on voodoo economics, guns and butter, the filibuster, and more in his responses to constituent questions, coming up on Dakota Free Press!
With the Gorsuch nomination out of the way, Senator John Thune is coming back to South Dakota so he can hold town halls! On Monday, April 10, the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce will host a public meeting with Senator Thune at 1:30 p.m. in the community room at the Public Safety Building… the police station.
But hey, at least we got three days notice this time instead of the barely 24 hours Noem gave. Of course, with lots of people working on Monday, it may hard to get a big crowd to offer Senator Thune their questions….
In their last election cycles, The telecom industry gave Representative Noem $38,200, Senator Rounds $40,166, and Senator Thune $215,000. Their votes this week indicate the industry’s investment in them has paid off, as once again, Representative Noem and Senators Rounds and Thune are putting big-money donor interests above the welfare of everyday South Dakotans. It seems the tens of thousands of dollars (or in Senator Thune’s case, hundreds of thousands of dollars) they received in campaign donations meant more to our state’s congressional delegation than protecting the Social Security numbers, financial materials, and health information of their constituents [South Dakota Democratic Party, statement, 2017.03.31].
Republican sponsors of the legislation insist the FCC plan was unnecesary and an example of government overreach.
But conservative callers to KELO Radio’s Greg Belfrage Show Friday morning were dead set against ISP’s being able to make money off their online browsing.
“It just seems like a huge invasion of privacy and I’m with you. I’m shocked that I’m on the side of the Democrats and the ACLU,” one caller complained to Belfrage [Mark Russo, “Rounds, Thune Respond to Online Privacy Pickle,” KELO Radio, 2017.03.31].
Russo quotes Thune saying that “we have to keep looking at how to best protect online consumer privacy under one consistently enforced standard.” O.K., Senator Thune, how about enacting and consistently enforcing a standard that says what we read, write, upload, and download on the Internet is as private as what we check out from the library?
Russo quotes Rounds saying that the FCC “needs to go back to the drawing board on these regulations and to a more evidence-based approach….” What evidence do you need, Senator Rounds, that the videos you watch and the e-mails you send should not be sold by your ISP to any liberal blogger with a big crowdsourced checkbook?
“In the 21st Century, Americans deeply value their privacy when it comes to digital content,” Yoder said in a statement Tuesday. “We don’t want the government having access to our information without our consent, and the same goes for private business.”
“These digital privacy protections put in place by the FCC are commonsense measures similar to long-standing rules that apply to phone companies that will simply ensure internet users can continue to have control over their personal information” [Harper Neidig, “GOP Faces Backlash over Internet Privacy Rules,” The Hill, 2017.03.30].
Yoder got it right, while Thune, Rounds, and Noem got it wrong. As Stephen Colbert noted, “This is what’s wrong with Washington, D.C. I guarantee you, there is not one person, not one voter of any political stripe anywhere in America, who asked for this….” Well, not one person except for the telecom execs to whom Thune, Rounds, and Noem sold our online privacy.
“TransCanada will finally be allowed to complete this long-overdue project with efficiency and with speed,” Trump said in the Oval Office before turning to ask TransCanada Chief Executive Officer Russell Girling when construction would start.”We’ve got some work to do in Nebraska to get our permits there,” Girling replied.”Nebraska?” Trump said. “I’ll call Nebraska” [Jeff Mason and Ethan Liu, “Trump Greenlights Keystone XL Pipeline, But Obstacles Loom,” Reuters, 2017.03.24].
Congresswoman Kristi Noem: “Not only does the Keystone XL Pipeline offer these large-scale benefits for our country, its construction will translate into added revenue for cash-strapped South Dakota counties, relief on our roads and rails, and job opportunities for folks across our state.
Job opportunities for folks across the state? Yeah, sure, those furloughed rail workers can duke it out for the jobs Keystone XL will create—all 35 of them. Heck, we’d create more jobs by expanding Medicaid in South Dakota… although I suppose those are sissy jobs helping people instead of rough-tough manly jobs running a pipeline to help Canada and China.
Privatization would hand over decisions about infrastructure funding, taxes and fees, consumer complaints, noise, and many other priorities, to a board of private interests dominated by the commercial airlines. These are the same airlines that have cut back flights to smaller communities by more than 20 percent in recent years, and have stated their intent to divert investment from small and mid-sized communities to large ones where the airlines are most profitable.
We are also concerned about costs and access. For example, the Canadian, privatized system, which is often held up as the system the U.S. should emulate, is more expensive than the system we have in the US by miles flown. In the U.K., that system has seen “more delays, higher fares and reduced connectivity” at London’s airports since privatization. So while we all agree that modernizing our air traffic control system and investing in American infrastructure should be among our highest priorities, privatization is not the answer [Mayors Mandell, Goings, et al., letter to Senator John Thune and Senator Bill Nelson, 2017.03.06].
Regardless of what Mayor Huether runs for next year, he appears to be on the right track on air traffic control. It ain’t broke—nobody has bumped into anybody in Sioux Falls airspace—and privatization won’t fix it.