John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

Category: election

IRISH GENERAL ELECTION

Ray ButlerLAUNCH OF RAY BUTLER CAMPAIGN
I would like to set out why I believe it is important that both Ray Butler and Minister Damien English are re elected to the Dail.

Both have worked hard as members for this locality and are deserving of support on that basis alone.

But, more importantly, their re election would enhance the possibility that the country will have a stable government from next month on.

Fine Gael is the party with the best chance of being able to form, alone or with stable partners, a majority government. That is important to everybody.

The lack of a stable government could drive up interest rates and derail the economic recovery, whose signs are visible everywhere.

As I know from personal experience in 1981/2, governments, without a majority, can have good ideas and clear plans, but, without a majority in the Dail, they cannot be sure they can put them into effect.

In particular they cannot be sure they can pass a budget, and without a budget , the affairs of the nation cannot be managed.

If government budgets cannot be guaranteed, interest rates are liable to soar, as they did in the early 1980’s, because that would make would make lenders nervous.

Thanks to errors of the 2002 to 2008 period, Ireland’s level of government and private debt is such that we must avoid that.

The global economy is not stable at the moment.

Global debts are greater that they were before the 2008 crash.

The European banking union is incomplete without mutual deposit insurance.

Investment in energy is being cut back, and energy companies are in trouble, which raises the possibility of oil prices being highly volatile, upwards as well as downwards.

The ageing of society in most of the western world, and in China, is going to put a dampener on growth prospects for countries, like Ireland, that export to those markets.  Slow growth would make debts that were sustainable unsustainable.

Ageing is also going to require us to spend progressively (and unfortunately incalculably) more on health.

In short, the economic future is uncertain.

In uncertain times, a country needs a government that is capable, in the interests of the people, of making quick decisions, and of implementing them, speedily. That means a government that knows it can pass laws and budgets, without needless haggling with special interests.

That is why is why we need a majority government, and why it is in the national interest, that Ray and Damien are both re elected to the Dail.

Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at the launch of the Fine Gael  General Election Campaign in South Meath by Ray Butler in Trim Castle Hotel at 10.30 am on Thursday 4 February

THE WAY HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES DISTRICT BOUNDARIES ARE SET IS A CORE CAUSE OF DEADLOCK IN US POLITICS

Many in Europe assume that the only really important election in the United States is the Presidential election.  But a President, who cannot get his/her legislative programme enacted by both Houses of Congress, can achieve little.

In fact the relative positioning of the candidates in the Presidential race is influenced by problems in Congress.  Hillary Clinton is away ahead of other potential rivals for the Democratic nomination, if she decides to run. Indeed the polls are so decisive she would find it very hard not to do so. But there is a strong possibility that, if elected, she will face a Congress where one of the Houses is controlled by the Republicans

On the Republican side, Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee show up best in polls in a widely dispersed field. But close observers suggest that Jeb Bush has the best chance of coming through as eventual Republican nominee, because he has a position on immigration that would allow him to win back Hispanic votes.  These are votes that his brother got when he was elected. This is important because the  Hispanic support that George W Bush won  has since been lost to the party because Republicans, who have a majority in the House of Representatives,   refuse to vote on an Immigration Reform Bill that has already passed in the Senate. 

The Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, will not schedule a vote because, although the Bill has an overall majority in the House, it lacks a majority within the Republican majority itself. This “majority of the majority” requirement, which has been the approach of Republicans since won a House majority, makes it very difficult to pass any bipartisan legislation. 

Many Republicans in the House were elected on a platform of “no compromise”, and are fearful of being undermined by Tea Party candidates in their party primaries.   

This means that they are also refusing to vote for any tax changes to reduce the deficit. The only tax changes they will support are pure tax cuts.

Likewise Congress has prevented President Obama getting the authority to negotiate a trade deal that would be voted on in Congress as a single package(so called “Fast Track “ authority, without which any meaningful trade negotiation is almost impossible.

Congress is also blocking an agreement on a reweighting of quotas between countries  in the IMF to reflect new global realities. They are refusing to recognise the new weight in the world of countries like China.
This deadlock is frustration for everybody, including the international partners of the United States.  The underlying problem  is in the way in which districts are drawn for House of Representatives elections. 

The districts are not decided at national level, but are drawn up by the State legislatures. In most states the legislatures design Congressional districts to create totally safe seats for one party or the other, and ensure that sitting members are not thrown together in the same one seat district.

This means that Districts often have highly contorted boundaries, and  that the really important contest in House elections is in primaries within parties, rather than in general elections. 

So House members spend their time fundraising to fend off opponents from within their own party who advocate a more fundamentalist view point. There is no electoral incentive to seek middle ground support. That then affects the way members of Congress approach votes in House itself.

There are two ways to resolve this dilemma

One would be to hand over the drawing of the boundaries of Congressional districts to an independent commission in each state, which would draw the lines on the basis of geographical convenience, without trying to create safe seats for particular parties. This is done in seven states.

The other is to have “Open Primaries”, where voters, of all parties and none, would take part in selecting the two top candidates who would contest with one another in the General election. The top two candidates would then run against one another in the general election, even if both happened to come from the same party.

Both of these solutions would  mean that candidates for the House  would  have an incentive to look for middle ground support, rather 

Such solutions could only be brought about on a state by state basis. They could not be imposed  on  a uniform basis in all states, because that would interfere with “states rights”, which are a strong tradition in US politics for the last 200 years.

It is often said that the European Union needs a Constitutional Convention to revise its constituting Treaties. The same could be said of the United States of America.






COPYRIGHT JOHN BRUTON & CONTENT

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