Nel's New Day

April 29, 2013

Tell GOP, Sequestration Causes Stress

Congress is gone on recess—again. No holiday, no national conventions, just gone for a week.  It may not make any difference because House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has been acting in a “post-policy” position for a long time. No big bills, just leave everything to the Senate before turning down everything that the Senate passes.

Steve Benen pointed out on the Rachel Maddow blog that the bills numbered from 1 to 10 are saved for the really big bills. During the 112th Congress, H.R. 1 was saved for the first 112th House anti-abortion bill. It’s been over 100 days in the 113th Congress, and only “big bill” is H.R. 3 which to force the building of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Last week, House Republicans thought about “fixing” Obamacare for perhaps the 40th time. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) tried, and the House was supposed to debate the bill. Immediately after the House approved bringing the measure to the floor, however, representatives were told that there would be no more votes. They said they might bring it back in May.

The House did introduce a bill to shield oil companies from having to disclose payments to foreign governments by changing a provision in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law. The purpose of the disclosure provision is to give greater transparency to poor African countries suffering from corruption. As always, oil companies are whining about the costly burdens and hindrances to competition from mandated foreclosures of their payments.

The House also managed an almost unanimous vote, 394-1, to enlarge government. The Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act will keep the Federal Helium Reserve open. U.S. companies need the gas for everything from party balloons to MRI machines, and the private sector didn’t step in to stop shortages. Although policymakers want the government out of the business because they say was created for blimps, a 1996 shortage made them less comfortable about losing the gas for scientific research, medical treatments, and semiconductor plants.

[Note: Rep. Linda T. Sanchez (D-CA), the one “no” vote, indicated that it was a mistake and told the House clerk that she wanted it changed to “yes.”

With long-term jobless rates at the worst point since immediately following World War II, a Joint Economic Committee scheduled a hearing about this last week. It started with only one lawmaker there, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), vice-chair of the committee.  As the following photo shows, she was joined with only three of the 20-member committee: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CN), Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). The 16 people not in attendance missed testimony from a GOP economist and former Mitt Romney advisor who called this issue a “national emergency.”

Joint Economic Committee

Congress did find a vital bipartisan issue on which they agreed: inconvenience, in this case to Americans who can afford to fly. Last week, infuriated by the delays resulting from FAA furloughs to 15,000 air traffic controllers, the House budget committee called FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on the carpet. At least one of them, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) demanded to know why he wasn’t told about these furloughs in advance, calling the lack of information a “shocking lapse of management.”

Huerta carefully explained that the FAA had warned about the sequester furloughs in February. After his long explanation, Rogers said, “Well, lah-tee-dah. Everyone knew that.” The video is well worth watching, if only for the “lah-tee-dah” moment.

Fortunately, the United States has been saved from the horrors of inconvenience in air travel. Both parties pulled together to pass a bill giving the FAA the flexibility to avoid furloughing air-traffic controllers. Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), relieved that his plane was not delayed as he headed home for the recess, said, “I think we need to implement these in ways, not that cause the most stress to the American people, but that cause the least.” Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) just complained, “I vote to shift funds to stop FAA furloughs and now U.S. AIR says my plane home is delayed.”

Congress didn’t actually relieve the $85-billion sequester; it just made the FAA move the $630 million expenditure somewhere else. The GOP has no plans to do anything about the draconian cuts like the following “inconveniences”:

Long-term unemployment: 4.7 million Americans have been unemployed for longer than six months, and sequestration cut federal long-term unemployment insurance checks by up to 10.7 percent. Because of this, 11 states are thinking about dropping the program. The long-term unemployed have more trouble finding jobs because employers are hiring short-term unemployed first.

Head Start: Despite the substantial benefits of this program, 70,000 low-income children are being kicked out of Head Start and Early Head Start education programs.

Cancer treatment: Doctors and cancer clinics have to deny chemotherapy treatments to thousands after a 2 percent cut to Medicare. One New York clinic has refused to see more than 5,000 of its Medicare patients, and other cancer patients have to travel to other states to receive their treatments, an impossibility for lower-income people.

Health research: The loss of $1.6 billion to the National Institutes of Health jeopardizes important health research into AIDS, cancer, and other diseases. It also loses the nation $860 billion in economic growth and at least 500,000 jobs.

Low-income housing: 140,000 low-income families–primarily seniors with disabilities and families with children–lose rental assistance. Sequestration also cuts programs that aid the homeless and fund the construction of low-income housing.

Student aid: Increased fees on direct student loans are raising costs for students who are already buried in debt as budget cuts reduce funding for federal work study grants by $49 million and for educational opportunity grants by $37 million. The total cuts cost 70,000 college students access to grants.

Meals on Wheels: Tens of thousands of low-income and disabled seniors, who already had a shortage of food, will not even have this program.

Disaster relief: FEMA’s loss of nearly $1 billion in funding limits aid for families, cities, and states just as the spring storm season begins. Hurricane Sandy relief will also be cut by over $1 billion.

Heating assistance: 400,000 out of 9 million households will no longer get help with their heating and cooling bills. These cuts come on top of $1.6 billion in reductions since 2010.

Workplace safety: OSHA, with inspectors able to visit workplaces perhaps once in 99 years, has been cut by $564.8 million, leading to at least 1,200 fewer workplace inspections. This encourages explosions like the recent one in West (TX) that killed 15 people and injured another 200.

Child care: At least 30,000 children will lose subsidies for care.

I didn’t put defense in this list because the GOP will be screaming enough about this in the upcoming days.

The GOP has clearly shown that small government is important only when it doesn’t impact them. Whenever conservatives are asked what specific programs they want to cut, they cannot come up with any specific one. The purpose of the sequester was to affect everyone equally, but the second that wealthier people—those who can afford to fly—suffered the slightest impact, the GOP leaped to make life easier for them.

The rest of the sequestration hurts far more people in the country; they are going to risk the loss of cancer treatments, food, education, child care, homes, and safety. The entire nation will suffer from the economic recession that the sequester will bring. When the GOP legislators were traumatized by the loss of White House tours, this impact was mentioned 33 times as often as the effects of cuts on the poor. Yet the only impact that has been repaired by the Congress is the one called “inconvenience.”

In his study, “Economic Inequality and Political Representation” Larry M. Bartels examined “broad summary measures of senators’ voting behavior as well as specific votes on the minimum wage, civil rights, government spending, and abortion.” In short, he wanted to know who the senators listen to. To no one’s surprise, it’s the affluent constituents who get a response; the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators’ roll call votes.”

Bartels found that these disparities in representation are “especially pronounced for Republican senators, who were more than twice as responsive as Democratic senators to the ideological views of affluent constituents.” If that holds true for the House, the GOP majority means that the bottom third of the income distribution have no voice in Congress’s decisions.

Someone needs to tell Rep. Guthrie and all the other GOP Congressional lawmakers that the sequester is causing a great deal of stress and that they should fix it.

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