Ed Rendell has always been candid. So, when the former Philadelphia mayor was winding up his second term as Pennsylvania governor, he decided it was time to write his life story. “A Nation of Wusses: How America’s Leaders Lost the Guts to Make Us Great” (Wiley, $25.95) is a memoir that tells it like it is.
In it, Rendell explains why America’s leaders rarely call for sacrifice for the greater good — to avoid making any sacrifices themselves. According to Rendell, they’re all wusses — and after more than three decades in politics, he knows a wuss when he sees one. Among current office holders and candidates, he sees politicians pretending to stand on principle while, in fact, pandering to their bases; flip-flopping on issues, not because of new information, but because of new polls; and criticizing rivals for actions they would have praised if done by allies. While not at all shy about singling out Republicans like Scott Walker, Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell, Rendell has no trouble taking on Democrats who refuse to stand up to the teachers’ unions or distance themselves from allies who run into trouble.
Rendell, 68, said it took him 18 months to write his lively life story in longhand. “I started in July 2010, the last six months I was governor,” recalled Rendell. “And because I was governor, I would write late at night and once and a while on weekends. And then I started my new life where I have 16 different jobs, so as a result I would write on trains, planes. It wasn’t uncommon for me to get home, eat dinner, do my day-to-day work and read my memos and then start writing part of the book at 10:30 — and I would look up, because I’d gotten into it, and it would be 3:30.”
In “A Nation of Wusses,” Rendell revisits some of the toughest fights of his career. “As I wrote I re-experienced, and I lived over again the things that I talked about,” said Rendell. “There were parts of the book that I wrote and I had tears in my eyes. Late at night I would be sitting there writing something, like the chapter on Haiti.”
Rendell was instrumental in the relocation of a group of 53 Haitian orphans in 2010 who were living in the post-earthquake ruins. He then pauses and opens the book to that passage. “I talk about the experience in Haiti, and the children who had never been on an airplane before: ‘As we were taking them back, we were on a huge cargo plane, a B-17, the length of a football field and it only had seats up against the wall of the plane. In between, there’s this huge space for weapons, and that was it. Half of the crew stayed on one side of the plane. The take off was as noisy as anything I’ve ever heard, not like a commercial plane. It should have been terrifying to those kids who had never been on an airplane before, but it wasn’t. They sat there calmly, almost happily. Here they are on this huge cavernous place, leaving a place that had been home all their lives, coming to a place they had never seen before to live the rest of their lives. Pretty amazing. All throughout the ordeal they had been pretty terrific ... Haiti still has a long way to go in its recovery, and the world needs to continue to help make that possible, but if these young children are typical Haitians, then their faith and spirit will someday prevail.’”
Rendell then shuts his book. “I had tears in my eyes when I wrote that. This was a very cathartic book of interesting and challenging moments in my life. When I talk about indicting the police who shot Delbert Africa. Arrgh! That was unbelievable! And in that sense, cathartic and enjoyable to go think about the memories. I had a great time writing the book, and I really wrote the book for myself. If it does well, then it’s gravy.”
This is a Philadelphia story like no other. Other politicians might have left out of their memoirs stories like what happened to their plaque in the park, the story of Swifty the five-legged donkey, a dirty Al Gore joke, the time they considered pretending to faint and who they’re already supporting for president in 2016. Luckily, Rendell is not that kind of politician. Complete with a scathing list of the “Top Ten Reasons Why Most American Politicians Are Wusses” and packed with uproarious tales of politicians in action that will make you wonder why these folks keep getting elected. Readers will delight in the honest revelations contained in “A Nation of Wusses.”
Shouting their opposition to the U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s latest budget plan and urging Congress to raise the minimum wage, protesters vented their anger at the nation’s Republican leaders on Monday at the Union League.
Their specific target was U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The Senate minority leader was in town making at least one private appearance.
“We don’t think he’s on the right side of the budget,” said Jess Burgan, assistant director of Fight for Philly. “We want him to vote against the Ryan budget.”
She was referring to a spending plan unveiled to the public last week by Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin and former vice presidential candidate.
It resembles his previous budget proposals, relying on higher tax revenues enacted in January and improved Medicare cost estimates – along with somewhat sharper spending cuts – to balance spending with tax cuts. Among its key provisions, a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, cuts to domestic programs ranging from Medicaid to college grants and another that would require future Medicare patients to bear more of the program’s cost.
Ryan was expected to formally introduce his proposal to the senate budget committee on Tuesday.
Marvin Robinson of West Philadelphia said he joined the protest because he wanted to “hold legislators responsible.”
“They need to make the economy smoother for all people,” he said.
Robinson was one of about a dozen protesters who picketed on the sidewalk in front of the imposing red brick and brownstone façade of the Union League.
The group chanted slogans like: “Hey, hey, ho, ho Mitch McConnell’s got to go” and “Mitch McConnell you can’t hide. We can see your greedy side.”
Though McConnell was not seen anywhere near the club’s main entrance on South Broad Street, a security guard, who asked not to be named, verified that the senate minority leader was indeed inside.
Earlier in the day he visited Comcast. The purpose of his visit was not clear – though it was likely a fundraising junket. A club staffer, who also asked not to be named, said all club events were private and would not say whether McConnell had a speaking engagement at the Union League.
“We didn’t expect to catch him,” said Burgan.
There were hints of unusual activity at the club, one of the city’s costliest, which also has entrances on Sansom and 15th streets. Sansom Street was lined with black SUVs and vehicles from the sheriff’s department.
None of the people exiting the club by the Broad Street entrance would speak to the Tribune.
Despite the small turnout, protesters represented three groups: Fight for Philly, Action United and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, District Council 33.
In addition to their concerns about Ryan’s budget proposal, Burgan said the group wanted to see the minimum wage raised.
“He thinks that’s an awful idea,” said Burgan.
President Barack Obama has asked Congress to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, to $9 in stages by the end of 2015. After that his proposal would allow automatic increases to keep pace with inflation.
For politicians, it’s always about the next election.
It’s an interesting notion that New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who is often mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2016, despite his denial of such aspirations, is more popular among Democrats than he is within his own party.
According to Public Policy Polling, Christie’s favorability is strong: 51 percent to 23 percent. He stands +29 with Democrats (52 percent to 23 percent), compared to +21 with Republicans (48 percent to 27 percent). But it’s among independents that Christie is most popular: 52 percent to 18 percent.
According to PPP, “Compared to a month ago, he’s up a net 12 points with Democrats and down a net 11 points with Republicans.”
The governor also currently holds a 73 percent approval rating from his own state’s registered voters — with 61 percent saying the state is moving in the right direction. Those giving rave reviews include 62 percent of Democrats and seven in 10 women.
According to pollster Tom Jensen, Christie’s change in popularity with members of both parties most likely stems from a nationally televised press conference where he slammed House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, for delaying a vote on aid to recover from Hurricane Sandy.
“I think the change from last month is probably mostly about the Boehner stuff, but I think the longer term change is certainly all the positive national publicity he got for how he handled the hurricane — but also specifically how he dealt with (President Barack) Obama,” said Jensen to NewJersey.com.
Jensen said his organization will release a poll soon on the potential field for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. He said Christie does well among moderate Republicans, but has virtually no support from the tea party members.
Among all voters, Christie is more popular than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the National Rifle Association.
The automated telephone poll of 1,100 registered voters was conducted from Jan. 3 to Jan. 6 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Ever since Hurricane Sandy destroyed parts of New Jersey, and Christie welcomed the president with open arms in the latter days of a very contentious presidential race, he has been in what many see as the political doghouse with his own party. There are those who believe that his actions influenced the outcome of the presidential race.
In New Jersey, Christie’s crisis management of the storm, and his favorable praise of the president with words like “outstanding,” “incredibly supportive” and worthy of “great credit,” gave him a ton of credibility among voters in his state — and with Democrats and independents all over the county.
According to The New York Times, the tensions followed Christie to the annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association in Las Vegas in November of 2012. At a gathering where he had expected to be celebrated, the governor was repeatedly reminded of how deeply he had offended fellow Republicans.
His apparent eagerness to work closely with the president has put in jeopardy any hopes he may have to be a national candidate. A number of Republicans have wondered aloud if he is still a viable nominee.
“It hurt him a lot,” said Douglas E. Gross, a longtime Republican in Iowa who has overseen several presidential campaigns in the state, to The New York Times. “The presumption is that Republicans can’t count on him.”
Republican voters in Iowa, the first state to select presidential candidates, “don’t forget things like this,” Gross said.
With Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s loss still stinging the party, Christie’s conduct remains a topic of widespread discussion.
“People keep asking me why you were so nice to the president,” Governor-elect Pat McCrory of North Carolina told Christie when they encountered each other in Las Vegas. “I tell them you are doing your job.”
“That’s right,” Christie replied, patting him on the back.
The Romney campaign still believes that Christie’s expressions of admiration for the president, coupled with pervasive news coverage of the hurricane’s aftermath, raised President Obama’s standing at a critical moment in the campaign.
During a lengthy look at the campaign, Romney’s political advisers said that a large number of voters who were undecided until the end of the campaign cited the storm as a major factor in their decision for backing the president.
“Christie,” a Romney adviser said to The New York Times, “allowed Obama to be president, not a politician.”
In that sense, Christie has been a convenient scapegoat for a candidacy that fell short for many reasons — demographic, ideological and personal — and Romney’s campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, emphasized that Christie did “exactly what a governor should do” in a crisis.
Still, a resentment remains among top financial donors who contributed big to Romney, many of whom had considered Christie a very influential friend.
In interviews, several of the donors speculated that Christie was positioning himself as a softer, post-partisan figure in time for his re-election as governor next year.
Christie’s popularity has created a quagmire for the Republican faithful. Since the hurricane, he has become a political celebrity with the image of a regular guy.
Some party loyalists saw his behavior after the hurricane as an echo of his convention keynote address in August, when he trumpeted his own accomplishments — but made scant reference to Romney.
But the argument is rejected by those loyal to the governor. Republican Party booster Kenneth G. Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot, told Christie to ignore carping party activists who he predicted would soon plead with him to seek higher office.
“I said, ‘Governor, if you lead a miraculous recovery of the state of New Jersey, that is all that is going to matter,’” said Langone to The New York Times. “They are going to be begging you to run, just like they begged Eisenhower.”
After the storm, Christie walked into a restaurant in Princeton, where he received a booming ovation.
Las Vegas was a little different, where Republican governors, past and present, offered a range of explanations for Christie’s warmth toward the president. After all, nothing can kill a political career like a botched response to a disaster.
“People here understand Chris Christie’s effusive personality,” said Haley Barbour, a former governor of Mississippi.
And Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa said, “There are some people that think maybe he could have handled it — been a little less gushing. But that’s his personality. He has got that New Jersey edge to him, you know, for good or bad.”
NewJersey.com and The New York Times contributed to this report.
Zack Burgess is the senior writer for Real Times Media and the Michigan Chronicle. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com.
WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic bill Tuesday to preserve low interest rates for millions of college students' loans, as the two parties engaged in election-year choreography aimed at showing each is the better protector of families in today's rugged economy.
The 52-45 vote to begin debating the legislation fell eight votes short of the 60 needed to proceed and stalled work on an effort both parties expect will ultimately produce a compromise, probably soon. For now, each side is happy to use the stalemate to snipe at the other with campaign-ready talking points while they are gridlocked over how to cover the $6 billion cost.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the vote showed that despite GOP claims that they support preventing an increase in student loan rates, "Republicans showed today that it's only talk."
He also noted that the likely GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, supports a temporary extension of today's low rates and needled, "I suggest he pick up the phone and call Senator McConnell."
That was a reference to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who said the battle is a phony one manufactured by Democrats to woo votes from students. Both parties say they want to extend low interest rates.
"The Senate has ceased to be a place where problems are resolved. It's become instead a place where Democrats produce campaign material," McConnell said.
The vote was nearly party-line, with Reid voting "no" to give himself the procedural ability to demand another vote once a compromise is reached. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who is retiring after citing excessive partisanship in Washington, voted "present."
The Democratic bill would keep interest rates for subsidized Stafford loans at 3.4 percent for an additional year, rather than doubling automatically for new loans starting July 1. It would have no impact on current loans.
A 2007 law approved by a Democratic Congress gradually lowered the rates but pops them back up to 6.8 percent in July because lawmakers were worried about costs.
Stafford loans are for low- and middle-income students. The Education Department projects the measure would affect 7.4 million undergraduates borrowing money in the year starting July 1.
Republicans oppose the Democratic plan to pay for the bill by forcing high-earning stockholders in some privately owned corporations and professional practices to pay additional Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes. Even if it passed the Senate, it would have no chance of emerging from the Republican-controlled House.
Democrats reject the GOP version, which drums up money for the extension of low rates by abolishing a preventive health program created by Obama's 2010 health care overhaul. Republicans are demanding a Senate vote on their measure but it cannot pass that chamber, and the White House has threatened to veto a House-passed bill that uses that same funding mechanism.
Both sides know they can push no student loan bill through Congress without a bipartisan consensus on paying for it.
But with politics the governing dynamic for now, it was no coincidence that each side proposed snatching savings from favorite targets that appeal to their parties' core voters: the rich for Democrats and Obama's health care revamping for Republicans.
The issue has been a favorite of Obama's in recent weeks as he appeals to student voters who flocked disproportionately to him in his 2008 presidential campaign. He turned to it again Tuesday during a visit to the State University of New York in Albany, where he tried raising pressure on lawmakers to act.
"Before they do anything else, Congress needs to keep student loan rates from doubling for students who are here and all across the country," he said. He added, "Don't let politics get in the way. Get this done before July 1."
Underscoring the political stakes, the Senate Democratic campaign organization distributed an email soon after the Senate vote saying that two Republicans facing tight re-elections this fall — Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Dean Heller of Nevada — decided to "side against students, middle class families by voting to double student loan interest rates."
Neither party wants to be blamed for letting students' costs grow larger in the middle of the presidential and congressional campaigns, so both have strong motivations to cut a deal. For now, each is daring the other to make the first move.
McConnell told reporters that Reid might want to call House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, "and say, 'Why don't we resolve this matter and move on with it, rather than leaving all these young people with a sense of uncertainty.'"
"Boehner has no votes over here," Reid snapped later, saying that if Republicans want to offer alternatives for paying for the bill, "Let's vote on them."
The Education Department estimates students will borrow $31.6 billion subsidized Stafford loans in the year starting July 1, averaging $4,226 for each student.
These loans generally are paid off over a decade or more after graduation. Allowing interest rates to double would cost the typical student about $1,000 over the life of the loan, the administration says. -- (AP)
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey is confident Congress will sidestep the looming threat of sequester and stop the nation’s economy from again falling into recession.
“I think we will and I think we must,” Casey said Monday after being asked if he thought a deal was possible. “We’ve got an economy that’s recovered a lot … We’re creating jobs at a good pace now. It could stand to pick up a little bit; but we still need to focus on job creation. If the sequester were in effect for a year, we’d have a recession.”
Pennsylvania’s Democrat senator sat down with the Tribune’s editorial board Monday afternoon to discuss several issues, including gun control and a move in several states to change the way electoral votes are apportioned.
Sequester is the process by which automatic spending cuts, totaling $82 billion in cuts - $55 billion in defense and $27 in discretionary spending, go into effect. Without Congressional action, those cuts are expected to start in March. and according to the Congressional Budget Office, could cost the U.S. economy as much as 1.4 million jobs in the first seven months.
It is the latest in a series of financial deadlines and budget talks that have created a nearly perpetual crisis in Washington D.C. Republican lawmakers have been using sequester as a way to force spending cuts without negotiation.
“I think sequester is going to happen,” Sen. Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma recently told the New York Times. “I think people want it to happen.”
“We need spending cuts, but we just shouldn’t do it in the sequester,” he said. “Those spending cuts are indiscriminant and not strategic enough to help our economy grow.”
Pressed to respond to the Republicans’ comments he added, “If they are being truthful; they know.”
The senator noted that, on average about 180,000 jobs were created in the U.S. each month in 2012 - and cuts in spending would jeopardize that growth.
“All of that is put at risk if you have the sequester imposed upon the economy,” he said.
Congress has delayed sequester once, voting in early January to push it back until March 1.
Casey suggested that lawmakers might again delay or draw up another list of cuts to replace those in sequester, or agree to a combination of both.
Sequester looms much the same way the so-called fiscal cliff did at the end of 2012.
Casey said he supports reaching a longer term deal that combines savings and revenue.
Republican leaders have said they are done discussing new revenue after the deal was reached earlier this year.
“The tax issue is finished, over, completed,” said Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, also to the New York Times.
New revenue is likely to come from tax reform, Casey said, which means closing loopholes. For him, that meant closing corporate tax loopholes - not those that affect individuals, he said, emphasizing that he wanted the mortgage deduction to stay in place.
Casey also said he did not support changes in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid rules, but thought savings to help boost funding for all of those programs could be found through greater efficiencies in spending.
He pointed to savings found when the Obama administration was drawing up the health care reform act and said he was sure similar saving could be harnessed again.
Addressing another topic that has seized the headlines recently, Casey said he expected a number of gun reform measures to be put before Congress – including mandated background checks, laws limiting the size of ammunition magazines and other initiatives. He was unable to predict if any of the proposals would be approved.
“We have to ask ourselves: Is there nothing that the United States of America, the most powerful nation in the world can do?” he said. “The answer is a resounding yes. We can do all of those without having any impact at all [on the Second Amendment.]”
Finally, Casey said he would caution Republicans against changing the way electoral votes are apportioned, noting that voter turnout rose after the state legislature passed the voter ID law.
A proposal in Pennsylvania and several other Republican controlled states would allocate electoral votes by congressional district rather than giving all votes to the candidate who carried the majority of popular votes.
“Isn’t it a little strange that when a Democratic president gets elected and re-elected, all of a sudden we’ve got to change the Electoral College? You’ve got to wonder,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of problems in the country. I don’t think too many people voting is one of them.”