Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Tag: Congress

June
26th

A giant step forward on the path to marriage equality

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

The words “landmark” and “historic” get tossed around a lot after a U.S. Supreme Court decision comes out. Wednesday’s 5-4 ruling overturning a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act genuinely deserves those labels.

It signals what anyone who was really paying attention already sensed: That the nation is moving, slowly but inexorably, toward full marriage equality. And Washington state, the first one where citizens voted to make same-sex marriage legal, helped lead the way.

On top of polls showing a majority of Americans now support marriage equality, the fact

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June
9th

Congress must keep college loans affordable

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Once again, Congress is facing a time-sensitive “cliff” deadline: July 1, when rates on federally subsidized Stafford student loans will double should Congress fail to act.

If this cliff sounds familiar, it’s because we were at the same brink last year during the election. A last-minute compromise — reached because no candidate wanted to be tarred with an anti-student label — froze the interest rate at 3.4 percent. But that will go up to 6.8 percent July 1 unless the White House, House Republicans and Senate Democrats can agree on either another

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May
28th

Farming: Poster child for immigration reform

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Despite all the complaints about partisan gridlock in Congress, Senate Republicans have joined Democrats to produce an artfully negotiated immigration reform package.

The country needs this legislation — but that doesn’t guarantee it will clear the House. Hard-line Republicans in that chamber are still grumping about amnesty and demanding a hermetically sealed border before they’ll consider giving some kind of legal status to the estimated 11 million people living in this country illegally.

There’s common ground to build on, though: Even in the House, many Republicans recognize the need to legalize the status of the workers who harvest crops, slaughter livestock, cultivate nurseries and otherwise keep American agriculture in business.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, roughly half of America’s farm labor force is illegal. Washington – one of the nation’s leading farm states – is especially dependent on unauthorized workers.

At least two-thirds of the people who harvest this state’s apples, cherries, grapes and pears could theoretically be deported. In other words, enforcing the current law would destroy entire industries — proof that the law has to be adjusted to reality.

At some point in the near future, even nonfarmers are going to realize what a godsend those workers are. Mexico — where most illegal farm labor comes from — is getting wealthier and exporting fewer low-wage laborers. Harvesting is backbreaking work; even in the Great Recession, few unemployed Americans from other industries were willing to endure it.

A country looking at a scarcity of farm workers had best figure out how to hang on to them. Threatening to kick them out is not the way to do it.
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March
7th

Lawmakers should intervene in rail dispute

Map shows Point Defiance Bypass route adjacent to I-5. (WSDOT)
Map shows Point Defiance Bypass route adjacent to I-5. (WSDOT)

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

A decision by the Federal Railroad Administration on the controversial Point Defiance Bypass is great for Amtrak. But it could be an economic blow to the future of several South Sound communities and add to the transportation nightmare thousands of commuters already face every day.

And it’s all to shave a few minutes off of Amtrak trains’ time between Seattle and Portland, and run a few more trains on that route. That’s an unacceptable tradeoff.

On Monday, the FRA gave the go-ahead to the $89 million bypass project that would reroute Amtrak trains from along the Puget Sound shoreline through South Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont. A three-year study found that the project – which would extend by 3.5 miles the rail line now used by the Sounder train to Lakewood – would not adversely affect the environment.

Perhaps, but sending high-speed trains down tracks that cross at-grade intersections would certainly lead to accidents, huge traffic disruptions and economic impacts, especially to Read more »

Feb.
23rd

Amid the evils of sequestration, a glimmer of virtue

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The sequester – automated, indiscriminate cuts across much of the federal government – was designed to be inconceivably stupid. So stupid that Republicans and Democrats would compromise on a deficit-cutting plan rather than let it take effect this Friday.

But they didn’t, and here it comes. A heresy now occurs to us: Among the sequester’s intended bad consequences, it may have an unintended good consequence: In the initial months, it could deliver a dose of shock therapy to the federal budget.

Congress needs some kind of shock. Compare the way it spends money with the way most states spend money.

When money gets tight in Olympia, for example, Washington governors force state agencies to practice triage.

Department heads are ordered to scrutinize their agencies’ activities and rank them in order of importance. What is necessary? What is nice but unnecessary?

What is just a perpetuation of old spending habits?

What would they keep if they had to give up, say, 5 percent of their money?

Nothing so systematic ever happens on the federal level, where trillions of dollars are spent every year without any overriding set of priorities.
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Dec.
27th

Norm Dicks: Embodiment of a better Congress

Congressman Norm Dicks

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

To understand what Washington will lose when Norm Dicks leaves Congress five days from now, you have to meet the man.

He comes across as a latter-day Teddy Roosevelt: beefy and bombastic; exuberant, gregarious and dominating; funny, friendly and full of stories. Though he talks nonstop, he’s no bore: The ideas just come too fast.

After about 10 minutes, you realize Dicks is not merely a consummate politician, but also a man of rare intelligence and insatiable curiosity. Once he’s on one of his favorite subjects – stealth aircraft, for example, or Puget Sound cleanup – you start to wonder if anyone else knows as much as this guy.

At 72, he still looks and talks like an irrepressible ex-Husky linebacker, which he is. On the issues he follows, he’s also a formidable intellectual with a dazzling grasp of technical detail and broad context.

Many of the tributes now being paid to Dicks amount to inventories of the projects and funding he brought home to Washington and the 6th Congressional District during his 36 years in office.

None of those lists is complete, though, because he’s done so much. Here is a sampling: Read more »

Dec.
25th

Will the Republican House please join this government?

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

In Congress, America needs a rational, functional Republican Party. As the fiscal cliff dispute is demonstrating, it doesn’t have one.

For years now, the bickering over the nation’s dangerous deficits has revolved around whether to keep Bush-era tax cuts in place for everyone – the official Republican position – or let them expire only for the wealthiest Americans, as most Democrats favor.

Marginal tax rates for the rich are only part of the nation’s overall deficit problem, but you’d never know it from the noise emanating from the capital. House Republicans and President Obama can’t agree on that question, so they haven’t been able to move on to other necessary action – including averting the “fiscal cliff” that threatens the economy if a slew of tax breaks all expire at once.

Many economists believe America’s increasingly healthy economy would be thrown into recession without at least a short-term budget deal. One number illustrates the threat: According to the respected Tax Policy Center, middle-class households with incomes running from $50,000 to $75,000 would see their taxes jump $2,399 next year, a severe loss of spending power.

Under sequestration – the mutual-assured-destruction pact Republicans and Democrats signed last year – the economy will also be slammed by a barrage of harsh spending cuts. The theory behind sequestration was that the cuts would be so intolerable to everyone, Congress would be forced to do something.

The Republican House majority has now done something. It has collapsed.

A deal appeared in the offing earlier this month. Obama had offered to let the tax cuts expire for Americans with incomes exceeding $400,000 a year (the earlier Democratic talking point had called for $250,000). Majority Leader Boehner countered with an offer to allow the increase to fall on people with incomes exceeding $1 million.

Both positions were drenched with partisan maneuvering and cynical calculation. But they were offers, and thus might have led to counter-offers.
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Nov.
26th

Benefits go begging when vets aren’t informed

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Ignorance isn’t bliss if you’re a military veteran unaware of the benefits and services available to you.

Unfortunately, that’s the case for millions of America’s veterans. A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of 2010 Veterans Affairs survey data found that more than half of veterans have little or no idea what benefits they’re entitled to – including access to VA health facilities, payment for disabilities incurred during military service, home loans and money for education.

Even among the best-informed cohort – younger veterans who served since 9/11 – 40 percent say they have little or no understanding of their benefits. More than 60 percent are unaware of their life insurance benefits.
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