Nel's New Day

December 18, 2015

Bipartisanship: Both Parties Hate the Omnibus Bill

Congress has decided to keep the government open for the next few months by passing the $1.8 trillion spending and tax bills, spreading holiday cheer and dismay throughout the country. After the House passed the tax bill yesterday by 318 to 109, it passed the spending bill today by 316 to 113 with four Democrats and one Republican not voting. Only 150 of the 247 Republicans voted in favor of it, destroying the Hastert Rule that demands any bills must have GOP support.

The Senate sent the bill to President Barack Obama with a 65-33 vote with six Democrats and independent Bernie Sanders voting no. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) were the only senators not voting. Rubio said during an interview in Muscatine (IA) that he would slow down the bill if not just stopping it while the Senate agreed to a time limit and moved forward.

The president signed the bill into law today.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who voted no, said that the GOP vote was a favor to the new speaker. This bill will send Tea Party constituents into full revolution for the next election. Democrats voted for the bill in spite of the removal of the ban on exporting oil and the absence of a bankruptcy provision for fiscally stressed Puerto Rico. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) got commitments to address the Puerto Rico issues early next year. Meanwhile, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has blamed any problems in the ominibus on the former speaker, who resigned because he couldn’t handle the House.

It was a true bipartisan effort because no one is happy with the result. Democrats did get a permanent renewal for a health plan for 9/11 First Responders that expired October 1 because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to put a vote on the floor. Comedian Jon Stewart, lately of The Daily Show, shamed Republicans and the nation by taking 9/11 First Responders to senate offices. Republicans also got several tax cuts although the bill had no new restrictions on Syrian refugees coming to the U.S.—a recent obsession for the GOP.

Also missing in the omnibus bill was “defunding” Planned Parenthood, a misnomer because PP simply gets paid for its services to Medicaid patients. Early next year Congress plans to use an alternative budget procedure called reconciliation to advance Senate  legislation on a simple majority vote in its continued effort to exchange $390 million to PP for $235 million for community health centers. Many of these give women false information about pregnancy and abortion except in California where the law bans this. President Obama pledged to veto any bill defunding Planned Parenthood. The omnibus bill also failed to defund the Title X family planning or teen pregancy prevention programs or allow employers to block their employees from receiving insurance coverage for abortion.

The deficit hawks went AWOL: the proposed spending bill adds $78 billion a year for the next ten years. Republicans pretend that permanently extended business tax credits don’t add anything to the deficit because they reflect current government spending. Fear of terrorism may also have made the hawks more cooperative, but they will most likely return in full force this next year. It would be nice to think that deficit hawks had figured out that the deficit has fallen sharply in recent years and is now down below 3 percent of GDP, but it doesn’t seem likely.

Across-the-board “sequester” cuts are mostly gone with this bill, and the package has about $700 billion in tax cuts—none of them paid for as the GOP has insisted in the past. Most of the cuts are those set to expire, such as R&D credit for businesses and anti-poverty cuts such as the expanded child tax credit and earned income tax credit. Others are taxes from the Affordable Care Act on insurance companies and medical device manufacturers that are delayed for a year. The two-year delay of the “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health insurance plans levying a 40 percent tax on the most expensive health insurance plans  allows unions to negotiate larger benefits packages instead of higher wages. The tax would not have taken effect until 2018; now it is delayed until 2020. Renewable energy producers received extensions of tax credits for wind and solar that are phased out over five years.

Here’s a chart of the tax cuts:

Taxes Omnibus Bill

Policy riders can be the most controversial items on a spending bill, these these are some of the bad ones that stuck to the final version:

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission cannot require publicly traded corporations to disclose their political spending, making the “dark money” allowed by Citizens United even darker. When the Supreme Court allowed almost unlimited campaigning expenditures because corporations are “people,” it endorsed disclosure of public spending. Congress followed a different path.

Country-of-origin labels for pork and beef have been eliminated; people in the U.S. no longer know the source of their meat.

The four-decade limit on exporting crude oil produced in America has been eliminated. Big Oil can now create fuel shortages in the U.S. by shipping their product to countries that will pay more for oil.

Restrictions on overseas coal financing are limited.

The IRS is prevented from modernizing its vague, outdated rules for political activity by nonprofits, allowing more dark money into elections from groups such as Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the billionaire Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity.

The president cannot issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending, including donations to nonprofit groups engaged in elections, as a condition of submitting a bid. Contractors can still be required to disclose their donations after they have secured their contract.

Personal privacy took a hit in the “cybersecurity” rider that allows businesses to share information with far less restrictions.

On the positive side, producers of genetically engineered salmon are required to develop guidelines and implement a program for the mandatory labeling of its product. The bill also does nothing to block states from creating their own mandatory labeling laws.

The best news is what was stripped from the final version of the omnibus bill:

Makers of cigars and electronic cigarettes will have to apply retroactively for approval of any products sold after February 2007.

The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law can still force retirement investment advisers to act solely to the benefit of their clients.

The Clean Power Plan rules to limit carbon emissions from U.S. power plants are still in effect as is President Obama’s promise to end federal funds to the global Green Climate Fund, created by the recent Paris agreement.

The Justice Department can still track buyers of multiple long guns although the GOP blocked funding of other research into gun violence.

A pointless rider in the bill: “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to maintain or establish a computer network unless such network blocks the viewing, downloading, and exchanging of pornography.” The GOP must be trying to protect members of its own party.

The dumbest part of the new spending bill? The Republicans defunded Acorn—again!

“SEC.522 [p. 1,016 of the 2,009-page bill]: None of the funds made available under this or any other Act, or any prior Appropriations Act, may be provided to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, allied organizations, or successors.”

The anti-poverty group officially closed over five years ago, it has no “affiliates” or “subsidiaries,” but the GOP continues to defund it.

October 30, 2015

Budget Bill, GOP Debate Dismay Republicans

This past week was filled with news, especially the GOP debate and the new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. A miracle also happened, but the media largely ignored this amazing event: Congress passed a bill that stops threats of government shutdown from the GOP refusing to both raise the debt ceiling and eliminate the sequester for the next 18 months. The GOP cannot use these threats before the general election a year from now. President Obama will finish his second term without the budget warfare, including an almost month-long government shutdown, that he’s endured for the past five years.

The budget agreement raises the government debt ceiling until March 2017 and sets the budget of the government through the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years. A collection of spending cuts and revenue increases provides $80 billion more for military and domestic programs, avoiding the sequester for another two years. The appropriations committees are just left to write legislation to reflect the spending by December 11.

The House passed the deal by a 266-167 vote; 79 Republicans joined 187 Democrats. Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) had hoped for this bill to pass before he left his position—and the House—but most people didn’t believe it was possible. Not everyone in the House wanted the bill: 167 Republicans voted against the bill. The so-called Hastert Rule, requiring that no bill would be put on the floor without the promise of enough Republican votes for passage, was totally ignored. The rule is named after the former Speaker who just pled guilty about lying to the government after they discovered he had been paying off a former student sexually abused by Hastert while he was a high school coach.

The budget accord raises spending caps on domestic and defense spending over the next two years and makes changes to the Social Security disability program while raising the debt limit until March 2017. There’s also a drawdown from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and savings reaped from a Justice Department fund for crime victims that involves assets seized from criminals.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the budget a “major victory” and removes “the stranglehold of sequestration … from our nation’s growth.” The other indicator that the bill is a positive move forward is that conservatives absolutely hate the agreement. Boehner almost lost the deal over the proposed cap for insurance in the federal crop insurance system but backed down in an agreement that the situation would be addressed later this year.

Social Security played a part in the bill that continued a two-percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors and other health care providers. Earlier this year, the Republicans tried to eliminate part of the Social Security disability program, but the current bill covers the shortfall in the disability trust fund with Social Security funds. At least one-third of Medicare recipients avoided a 52-percent premium hike.

The bill finally passed the Senate by 64-35 at 3:00 in the morning after long wrangling when 18 Republicans joined all Senate Democrats to support its final passage. The vote could have been earlier, but Rand Paul (KY), who came back from his presidential campaign trail for the vote, spoke against it for an hour. GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz (TX) and Marco Rubio (FL) also voted against the bill; Lindsey Graham (SC) voted in favor of it.

The bill’s great advantage is that the congressional appropriations committees can stop arguing about short-term continuing resolutions to avert government shutdowns. Cruz can no longer threaten the nation with his favorite activity—stopping all government activity. Hedge funds and private equity firms are losers because the bill calls for heightened IRS scrutiny for them. The government receives $11 billion to audit large partnerships.

The bill also requires generic drug makers to pay an additional rebate under Medicaid if drug costs outpace inflation—a given. Non-generic drugs already have to pay that rebate. The GOP should be happy that it finally killed one small part of the Affordable Care Act that no one knew about—the mandate for large employers to automatically enroll new employees in health plans. That part hadn’t been enforced yet so people won’t notice.

Equally crushing for conservatives is that over half the Republicans joined Democrats to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which conservatives called corporate cronyism. The backers used a little-used discharge petition which circumvents leadership opposition to bring the bill up for a floor vote. It is yet to be seen whether the Senate will pass a bill that got almost three-fourths of the House vote.

While the congressional Republicans were fighting about the budget, the GOP presidential candidates were honoring the liberal union position of striking to get better working conditions. They banded together to protest what they perceived as unfair media treatment at last Wednesday’s debate and erase the contract with NBC for the debate in Houston on February 16, 2016. RNC Chair Reince Priebus called the questions “petty and mean-spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates.” He added that the debate “was not an attempt to give the American people a greater understanding of our candidates’ policies and ideas.”

Conservatives are calling for “conservative media professionals” (an oxymoron) to moderate GOP debates because “liberal moderators” are in charge. This may be the first time that the Fox network has been called “liberal.” Their suggestion is to have Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Mark Levin as moderators because they “influence more Republican primary voters.” Diana Banister, Executive Director of Citizens for the Republic, described past debate questions as being “of zero relevance, yet designed to bring chaos and disorder to the Republican’s chance to win the race for the White House.” Others went farther to ask that Democrats have a debate moderated by “conservative opinion leaders.”

Thus far the group of protesting presidential candidates has at least ten of the remaining 16 wannabes although they are excluding RNC Chair Priebus.  Each one is voicing complaints and ways to make the debates more successful for them individually.

Jeb Bush and Rand Paul want equal speaking time, and Bobby Jindal, still at the kids’ table, wants to change the criteria for determining who qualifies for the prime-time debate. Polling better in Iowa than nationally, he wants early state polling instead of just national surveys. Others at the early debate at the bottom of polling want a random drawing instead of poll numbers to determine the main debate. Ben Carson is upset about what he called “gotcha” questions about his affiliation with the fraudulent supplement company Mannatech. He skipped over the fact that he lied about his relationship with the firm. Chris Christie accused a moderator of being rude, “even in New Jersey”; he’s the governor who bellowed “sit down and shut up” and calls people in the audience “idiot.”

Donald Trump had already convinced the networks that two hours was better than three hours, reducing fire from other candidates. The candidates also demanded opening and closing statements, something that the network said would take too much time for ten candidates but agreed to. Before the debate, candidates complained about the quality of their green rooms. The post-mortem of the GOP-failed 2012 campaign concluded that 20 debates were too many because they allowed candidates to show the weaknesses of their opponents.

Petty? Mean-spirited? Too long? Zero relevance? “Gotcha” questions? Designed to embarrass? All these terms describe the past month’s grueling 11-hour Benghazi hearing at the House of Representatives that Democratic presidential candidate faced with grace and patience. The GOP candidates could take a lesson from watching her.

August 5, 2013

GOP Sequester Destroys the United States

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:08 PM
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House members have gone on vacation for a long time, but the stench of GOP votes lingers on. Last week, they voted to block federal funding for ACORN—for the 13th time since the GOP took over the chamber in 2011. Whether anyone believed in the mission of ACORN is moot. The anti-poverty organization staffed by low-income people was disbanded in 2010, almost a full year before the GOP started its worthless votes. “Word is the majority will also prohibit foreign aid to the Ottoman Empire this year,” said a Democratic congressional aide. Although the Empire was dissolved after World War I, the aide might be correct.

Even if ACORN still existed, Congress voted in 2009 to defund any organization charged with breaking federal or state laws with the ban extending to employees, contractors, or others affiliated with the charged group. That means a law already exists to do what the GOP has proposed for 13 times.

What could the House do instead of voting against ACORN? Maybe fixing the draconian cuts of the sequester. Not much chance of this happening because theyll be session only nine days in the next two months.

The negative effects of the sequester are obvious only five months after the it went into effect. Although the economic growth was 1.7 percent in the quarter from April to June, it would have been stronger without the sequester’s loss of between 900,000 and 1.6 million jobs. During that same quarter, government consumption and investment declined by 1.5 percent; reversing sequestration would add 0.7 to 1.2 percentage points to GDP.

The sequester cut 1.5 million people off unemployment insurance. Parents with jobs don’t have child care, low-income kids don’t have preschool through Head Start, and teachers don’t have jobs. Nearly $600 million has been cut from special education funding and $700 million from assistance to low-income school districts. Meals on Wheels and funding for state parks have been cut. Medicare patients can’t get cancer treatments. The National Institutes of Health has delayed or halted 700 research awards that help fund the study of diseases affecting millions of Americans.

Sequestration will cause 337,000 victims of domestic violence, child sexual abuse, adult sexual assault, and other crimes to lose critical support and services through the Crime Victims Fund. The cuts of up to 2,100 food inspections can result in outbreaks of foodborne illness, always a serious threat to families and public health.

The U.S. Forest Service’s $2 billion-a-year firefighting budget has lost tens of millions of dollars with its 5-percent cut. That means 500 fewer firefighters and 50 fewer fire engines than last year as well as 100 fewer seasonal firefighter positions. This year’s fire season may be even more disastrous than the one last year, the third-worst in decades, when 9.3 million acres burned.

Small businesses will suffer from the $1 billion cut from small business loan guarantees.

Potentially dangerous criminals on probation will not be monitored as well as in the past because of reduced staffing. “Funding for salaries and operations in the probation and pretrial services system has been reduced 14 percent for this fiscal year, and resources for location monitoring, mental health and substance abuse treatment have been cut 20 percent,” said  Thomas Hogan, director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.

In more than 20 states, federal defense is closing offices and laying off between one-third and one-half of the staff. Without public defenders, arrested people receive help from private court-appointed attorneys who charge much more, and jail costs go up as arrested people spend more time waiting for trials. Long trial postponements cause the risk of cases being thrown out of court such as the trial for alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial after federal public defender furloughs in Massachusetts. And it will only get worse. This year’s cut to the budget is 9 percent; without any legislation next year will see up to a 23-percent reduction, 97 furlough days for each federal defender causing each person four and a half months without pay.

GOP legislators don’t look at the above cuts as problems. Instead they complained last spring about the closure of White House tours.    Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) got angry because the Blue Angels military planes flying demonstrations were cut back. In the pattern of blaming the president for any cuts from the sequestration, he said:

“President Obama’s administration should be ashamed for trying to convince the American people that our only choices when it comes to dealing with the debt are either to leave government as big and bloated as it is, or accept a new reality where our people have to endure longer lines at the airport, endless flight delays, the loss of safety net medical assistance, the denial of education services, and many other inconveniences and negative effects to people’s day-to-day lives.”

Inconvenience for lawmakers resulted in one change that they fixed. In order to not have their flights delayed, Congress voted to strip funding for airport.

Rubio’s GOP governor, Rick Scott, criticized the sequester because of National Guard furloughs in the midst of hurricane season. Instead of blaming his senator, Scott faulted the National Guard:  “The problem is you’re losing training time, you’re losing preparation time. When will the National Guard make the decision that we stop the furloughs? Right after the hurricane hits?”

The House can be expected to vote a fix for any cuts that embarrass them. The week before they left town, GOP members voted to stop furloughs for civilian Defense Department employees. The Pentagon’s 11 weeks of furloughs starting in mid-July resulted in a 20-percent-weekly pay cut through September for 680,000 of the Pentagon’s roughly 800,000 civilian employees, the equivalent of 250,000 jobs. During debate, GOP representatives criticized President Obama for not solving the sequester program that they put into law.

Half the cuts of sequestration are in the area of defense because the defense budget is huge. Although salaries, benefits, and military bases are preserved, the Air Force has grounded a third of its fighter squadrons, keeping pilots and mechanics from doing their jobs and canceled its combat training exercises and courses at the Air Force Weapons School.

The Army also sharply reduced training above the basic squad and platoon level and halted depot maintenance for the rest of the fiscal year. With cuts of 37,000 flying hours, the Army will have a shortfall of 500 pilots. The Army is also considering a 100,000-person cut to its active duty force, creating constant deployment in any war situation.

Two-thirds of the Navy’s non-deployed ships and aviation squadrons won’t meet readiness targets by the end of the fiscal year. The Navy has also delayed planned fleet deployments, including the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman to the Persian Gulf and the frigate USS Thach to the South Atlantic.

The Marine Corps has already gone from 202,000 to 182,000 members and could lose 8,000 troops as well as two of its key next-generation weapons systems under sequestration. Fewer personnel requires the Corps to cut back on its purchases of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and eliminate its participation in the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program to replace the Humvee combat trucks.

The intelligence community is trimming contracts, collection systems, and analysis and may decommission some satellite reconnaissance systems.

Three months ago, the House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) called the sequester “idiotic” but said he was hemmed in by the Budget Control Act, the House-passed budget, and House rules. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) summarized the GOP position:

“The fact that the sequester went into effect has been another thing that has taken some of the pressure off and a lot of members of Congress will publicly complain and moan about the sequester and privately say better that somebody else makes the decision than us. Unfortunately that’s what happens.”

Almost 40 percent of people in the country are impacted by the sequester, and a majority of people disapprove of the cuts. Fifty-nine percent of Democrats, 54 percent of Republicans, and 58 percent of independents oppose sequestration.

The sequester is doing exactly what the conservatives want it to do—hurt the nation’s economy, take benefits from people who need them, and undermine the country for no good reason. Lawmakers are supposed to make decisions; Republicans have decided that this is not their job. As Robert Reich pointed out, Republicans want high unemployment and low job-growth to keep wages down, to fuel Wall Street, and to maintain the fear and insecurity among the people of the United States.

June 4, 2013

Republicans Call This Leadership

After a quieter few days on the Congressional front, the legislative branch is briefly back in session. Last week, GOP Texas Reps. John Culberson and John Carter introduced two separate bills that included the defunding of ACORN.  The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, a coalition of 501(c)3 charities,  helped people facing foreclosures, got living wage laws passed in 15 U.S. cities, participated in building 1,850 homes as well as other providing other relief following Hurricane Katrina, and registered about 450,000 first-time voters.  After James O’Keefe smeared the group with edited video, ACORN lost its funding despite the fact that it was found innocent of all charges.

ACORN disappeared over three years ago, officially filing for bankruptcy on November 2, 2010, and dissolving a few months ago. Yet the Texas representatives are spending time in passing bills against a non-existent organization.

On Sunday’s Meet the Press, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) talked about protecting women by denying them equal pay. She claimed that women want to be independent, rather than counting on government to guarantee that they will be paid the same as men for the same job. At least that’s what I think she means. Here’s what she said: 

“They don’t want the decisions made in Washington. They want to be able to have the power and the control and the ability to make those decisions themselves.”

Outside Congress, the GOP is helping to drive off women voters. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) took the lead today when he blamed the country’s educational troubles on women working outside the home. In response to a question about when the U.S. became “so mediocre” in regard to educational outcomes, he said: “I think both parents started working. The mom got in the work place.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is taking a lot of heat these days. First he got into a fight with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) because Cruz refuses to let the Senate set up a joint committee with the House to work on the country’s budget. Then another GOP Texan, Rep. Louie Gohmert dived in to accuse McCain of culpability in the deaths of four U.S. officials in Benghazi. The discussion started with the problem of McCain’s visit to Syria and being filmed with a jihadist while Congress was in recess. Gohmert responded that “a U.S. ambassador and three others [would be] alive today if it weren’t for McCain and President Obama.

This interpretation skips over McCain leading Benghazi investigation, smearing U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice. An interpretation of Gohmert’s ranting is that McCain is at fault because he advocated the U.S.-led conflict in Libya where dictator Muammar Qaddafi, resulting in his ousting and death.

Today, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) explained to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and other members of the Armed Services Committee why rapes are so prevalent in the military. During the hearing on sexual assaults followed Gillibrand’s proposed legislation to handle these charges outside the victim’s chain of command, she said that commanders are ill abled to objectively address the issue. Chambliss defended the rapists because of the “hormone level of youth”:

“The young folks that are coming into most of your services are anywhere from seventeen to twenty two or three. Gee whiz. The level of, the hormone level created by nature um sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur.”

His speech missed the point that the recent identified rapists–leaders in the military–are over the age of 40. Chambliss is well-known for his 2002 campaign when he attacked his opponent, a Vietnam War veteran who lost both legs and an arm, for being too soft on issues of war and homeland security. During the Vietnam War, Chambliss applied for, and received, five deferments, the last for a bad knee from a football injury.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has given up on his pet project of immigration reform. After declaring that the Senate could not muster the 60 votes—the new majority of 100 Senators—he introduced a constitutional amendment to invalidate the individual Obamacare mandate to buy health insurance. The text reads: “Congress shall make no law that imposes a tax on a failure to purchase goods or services.”

By now almost all the Republicans have forgotten that the individual mandate to purchase health insurance was instigated by the GOP, starting with Nixon in the 1970s and continued with George W. Bush in the 1980s, Mitt Romney as Massachusetts governor, and such senate notables as John McCain, Orrin Hatch, Lamar Alexander, and Lindsey Graham who co-sponsored legislation with the mandate.

On Fox & Friends, radio host Laura Ingraham begged Rubio to drop immigration reform that is “dividing the Republican Party.” Her radio audience wants the senate to focus on augmenting the economic recovery. As usual, Fox News is guiding the GOP policies.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has died at the age of 89. Although he had decided not to run in 2014, his death still leaves an opening for the next 18 months. This opening has created a two-pronged discussion. The first is whether the GOP Gov. Chris Christie will appoint a Republican or Democrat. Although tradition suggests the replacement be from the same political party as the person being replaced, this policy is not set in stone.

Christie has a dilemma. He’s in trouble with the GOP because he hasn’t 100 percent rejected President Obama, but appointing a Republican will endanger votes from moderate Democrats when he runs for re-election this coming fall.

The other half of the issue comes from Christie’s decision earlier today: declaring an election for the replacement on Wednesday, October 16, instead of waiting another 20 days until the scheduled election on November 5. The media is guessing that he is afraid the senatorial election would bring out the Democrats to vote for their candidate—probably Cory Booker—and thus vote against Christie as governor. The special election less than three weeks earlier will cost over $12 million. To quote Christie: “I don’t care how much it costs.” That’s not what he said about education in the state.

Two budget bills are headed to the House floor this week: one funding veterans’ affairs and military construction, and the other funding the Department of Homeland Security. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has crafted these, moving the burden of the sequester cuts away from these areas and forcing the domestic agencies to shoulder all the disaster. Usually huge budget bills with undesirable amendments are a shoe-in, but the president has declared a different take this time. His statement reads as follows:

“The President is committed to the care of our veterans and funding other important priorities within a budget framework that strengthens our economy and advances middle-class priorities. However, enacting H.R. 2216, while adhering to the overall spending limits in the House Budget’s topline discretionary level for fiscal year (FY) 2014, would hurt our economy and require draconian cuts to middle-class priorities. These cuts could result in hundreds of thousands of low-income children losing access to Head Start programs, tens of thousands of children with disabilities losing Federal funding for their special education teachers and aides, thousands of Federal agents who can’t enforce drug laws, combat violent crime or apprehend fugitives, and thousands of scientists without medical grants, which would slow research that could lead to new treatments and cures for diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s, and hurt America’s economic competitiveness….

“Prior to consideration of appropriations bills the Congress should complete an appropriate framework for all the appropriations bills. More than a month has passed since the deadline for action and the Congress has yet to appoint conferees and agree on a budget resolution. Unless this bill passes the Congress in the context of an overall budget framework that supports our recovery and enables sufficient investments in education, infrastructure, innovation, and national security for our economy to compete in the future, the President’s senior advisors would recommend that he veto H.R. 2216 and any other legislation that implements the House Republican Budget framework.”

Good for the president! Let’s hope that he follows through.

May 24, 2013

The GOP – Not Even Penny-Wise While Pound Foolish

Yesterday, a part of the I-5 bridge that crosses the Skagit River in northern Washington state collapsed, sending two vehicles down 50 feet into the 46-degree, 15-foot-deep water and three people to the hospital. With no loss of life, the loss of this bridge, which carries 71,000 people each day, may not seem like a big deal. But it is.

People have been well aware that bridges and other infrastructures across the country are crumbling. Almost six years ago, a Minneapolis bridge collapse that killed 13 people drew attention to the expanding disaster caused by Congressional unwillingness to address this problem. Last year, the Federal Highway Administration reported that 67,000 of our 607,000 bridges are structurally deficient. That’s almost 11 percent of all bridges, only one percent less than when the I-35 bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. Motorists take 210 million trips daily across at least one deficient bridge.

Some studies  identified bridges needing the most work, and some states installed sensors to track bridges’ deterioration on a computer. With a lack of funding, however, bridges, with an average age of 42, failed to receive the attention that they need. The nation has a C+ for maintaining bridges, and governments need to add $8 billion annually to their investment to take care of these bridges.

A truck with an excessively tall load striking a steel girder may have caused the collapse over Washington’s Skagit River. Naysayers could claim that the bridge was probably fine. But safe bridges are not classified as “fracture critical,” which means that the entire structure can be brought down if only one major part fails. Inspected twice during the last year, the bridge received a sufficiency rating of 47 out of 100 at its November 2012 inspection. The state average is 80, according to an Associated Press analysis. Built in 1955, the bridge is one of almost 2,000 bridges in classified as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

The real news is that public construction spending is lower than it’s been in over 20 years.

bridge construction

In his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about addressing “an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair.” As he put it, “Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire–a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and Internet, high-tech schools, self-healing power grids.” He supports the “Fix-It-First” program, but as Matt Yglesias explained:

“[P]oliticians and real-estate developers like to open brand new roads with fun ribbon-cutting ceremonies and new subdivisions. Finding money to actually maintain roads we already have is less appealing. Consequently, we get too many miles of road (and too much sprawl), but the roads suck. The fix-it-first concept is to flip this and make sure we’re maximizing the value of our existing roads before we build new ones.”

The president’s recommended a partnering with the private sector to create jobs through the investment in vitally needed projects. A government investment of $10 billion to create and capitalize an independent National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) could leverage $200 billion of total infrastructure investment from private sector partners and state and local governments.

The GOP is interested only in manufactured scandals that they hope will bring down President Obama and the Democrats, spending and tax cuts, and the elimination of women’s rights. They want to continue hearings on Benghazi, questioning former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; bring Lois Lerner back to question her about the IRS despite her clear intention to invoke the Fifth Amendment; investigate Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about fundraising for Obamacare; press forward on a national anti-abortion law which would be unconstitutional; and otherwise avoid governing the country.

Boehner and the rest of the extremists in Congress don’t consider that the United States is approaching an economy in which goods cannot be easily transported from one city or state to another because the country doesn’t have the bridges and roads and rail to do this.

The collapsed bridge in Washington has cut off the highway into Canada from the western states of California, Oregon, and Washington. This cuts private profits. Failure to invest in roads and bridges would total $3.1 trillion in lost GDP growth in the next eight years, lose 3.5 million jobs, and cost private sector companies over $1 trillion.

Eighteen months ago, Senate Republicans, with the help of Nebraska’s blue dog Ben Nelson and Connecticut’s independent Joe Lieberman, blocked the piece of President Obama’s jobs act, which would have provided for $60 billion in infrastructure spending.

At the same time, House Republicans were determined to pass a bill that would tie new infrastructure funding to federal revenue generated from an expansion of domestic energy production. At that time, 27 percent of the bridges in Ohio, Speaker John Boehner’s home state, were either “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete,” including 171 bridges that are part of the national highway system.

Almost a year ago, Mark Thoma, economist and Fellow at the American Century Foundation, wrote about how he was stunned by Congress’s inability to fund infrastructure investment because it would meet the GOP goal of a boost to the general economy.

“At a time when interest rates are as low as we are likely to see, when labor and other costs are minimal due to lack of demand during the downturn, and when the need is so high, why aren’t we making a massive investment in infrastructure, which is ultimately an investment in our future? There are many, many public investments we could make where the benefits surely exceed the costs–these are things the private sector won’t do on its own even though they are highly valuable to society–so what are we waiting for?

“If there’s any policy Republicans ought to be able to support, it’s infrastructure spending. It’s inherently a supply-side policy, it helps to promote future economic growth, and it’s an investment with large, positive net benefits. But Republicans see a ‘we won’t build that’ approach to infrastructure spending. . .”

For the past five years, interest rates have been at all-time lows, and construction workers have been largely unemployed. Investing in the infrastructure would have been a bargain. Bridges are not the only piece of infrastructure that are approaching crisis. Highways, wastewater treatment facilities, electricity grid, and tunnels are rapidly deteriorating without maintenance.

In a survey of airports last month, not one U.S. airport was rated in the top 25. Only 17 were in the top 100. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport fell to 30th from 24th a year ago.

The sequester will make this even worse because of the need for senators and representatives to fly on time. The $253 million paying for more prompt airplanes comes from airport maintenance and construction. President Obama said:

“We’re using our seed corn short-term. And the only reason we’re doing it is because right now we’ve got folks who are unwilling to make some simple changes to our tax code, for example, to close loopholes that aren’t adding to our competitiveness and aren’t helping middle-class families.”

More scary statistics here—and these are two years old! The GOP is intent to create a country with a non-government, and they are willing to destroy the concept of “general welfare” in order to do this.

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.

February 22, 2013

Whither the Sequester, Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:09 PM
Tags: ,

The sequester is due to take effect in seven days, March 1. The $85 billion to be cut during the next seven months reduces defense programs about 8 percent and domestic programs about 5 percent. Under the terms of the sequester, federal spending would be cut by $1.2 trillion from March 2013 to March 2021. In fiscal year 2013 alone, states will lose an estimated $6.4 billion in federal funding.

A New York Times editorial has itemized examples of these indiscriminate reductions.

National Security: Two-week furloughs for law-enforcement personnel reducing Coast Guard operations include drug control and aid to navigation, by 25 percent. Cutbacks in Customs agents and airport security checkpoints will “substantially increase passenger wait times,” the Homeland Security Department said, creating delays of as much as an hour at busy airports. The Border Patrol will lose the equivalent of 5,000 agents a year. The cut of $900 million in the Energy Department’s nuclear security programs will create delays in refurbishing the weapons stockpile and decrease of security at manufacturing sites. Environmental cleanup at nuclear weapons sites in Washington, Tennessee, South Carolina and Idaho will be delayed. FEMA’s disaster relief fund will lose more than $1 billion.

Air Traffic:  With about 10 percent of the Federal Aviation Administration’s work force of 47,000 employees on furlough each day, including air traffic controllers, to meet a $600 million cut, air traffic will be reduced, causing delays and disruptions, particularly at peak travel times.

Criminal Justice: Every F.B.I. employee will be furloughed for nearly three weeks over the course of the year, the equivalent of 7,000 employees. This $550 million cut will reduce the number of background checks on gun buyers and response times on cyberintrusion and counterterrorism investigations. A cut of $338 million for 37,000 prison employees results in a two-week furlough for each of them, with lockdowns at federal prisons that increase the chances for violence. It will also prevent the opening of three new prison buildings. With furloughs from a $100 million cut, federal prosecutors will handle 2,600 fewer cases: thousands of criminals and civil violators will not face justice, and less money will be collected in fines.

Early Childhood Education:  About 70,000 children will lose access to Head Start, and 14,000 teachers and workers will be laid off, because of a $424 million cut. Parents of about 30,000 low-income children will lose child-care assistance.

Health and Safety:  A cut of $350 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will mean 25,000 fewer breast and cervical cancer screenings for low-income women; 424,000 fewer H.I.V. tests; and the purchase of 540,000 fewer doses of vaccine for flu, hepatitis, and measles. About 900,000 fewer patients lacking insurance will receive primary care when community health centers are cut by $120 million.

Prices will rise and food will be less safe from black-market sales of unexpected food after a three-week furlough of all food safety employees produces a shortage of meat, poultry, and eggs. The intermittent shutting of meat-packing plants could cost the industry up to $10 billion in production losses. Air-monitoring sites and over 100 water-quality projects will be shut down while the $100 million cut from Superfund enforcement will permit companies to avoid cleaning up environmental disasters.

Research:  The cancelation and/or reduction of almost 1,000 grants from the National Science Foundation negatively affects research in clean energy, cybersecurity, and reform of science and math education.

Recreation:  All 398 national parks will have shorter hours while some will close camping and hiking areas. Some wildlife refuges may be shuttered, and firefighting and law enforcement will be cut back. Without resources to issue permits, inspect facilities, and do environmental reviews, development in oil, gas, and coal will be curtailed.

Environment: The EPA monitoring of oil spills, air pollution, and hazardous waste will be diminished, and the color-coded system that keeps schoolchildren and others warned to stay inside on bad-air days will be reduced if not eliminated. Consumers will have less availability to new models of cars and trucks because of longer times to determine whether these meet emission standards.

Defense Personnel:  Furloughs lasting up to 22 days will be imposed for civilian employees, who do jobs like guarding military bases, handle budgets, and teach the children of service members. More than 40 percent of those employees are veterans. The military’s health insurance program, Tricare, could have a shortfall of up to $3 billion, which could lead to denial of elective medical care for retirees and dependents of active-duty service members.

Military Operations:  The Navy plans to shut down four air wings on March 1. After 90 days, the pilots in those air wings to retrain them. The Nimitz and George H. W. Bush carrier strike groups will not be ready for deployment later this year because the service will run out of operations and maintenance money. Therefore the Truman and Eisenhower strike groups will remain deployed indefinitely, affecting thousands of service members and their families. Reductions of continuous bomber flights outside of Afghanistan will be reduced will be accompanied by cutbacks to satellite systems and missile warning systems.

Training and Maintenance:  The Army, which has done most of the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, will be forced to curtail training for 80 percent of its ground forces; by the end of the year, two-thirds of its brigade combat teams will fall below acceptable levels of combat readiness. Air Force pilots expect to lose more than 200,000 flying hours. Beginning in March, roughly two-thirds of the Air Force’s active-duty combat units will curtail training at their home bases and by July will no longer be capable of carrying out their missions. Some ship and aircraft maintenance will be canceled for the third and fourth quarters of the fiscal year, resulting in fewer available weapons.

Labor: More than 3.8 million people jobless for six months or longer may have unemployment benefits reduced by as much as 9.4 percent. Thousands of veterans will lose job counseling. Fewer OSHA inspectors mean 1,200 fewer visits to work sites. One million fewer people can get help finding or preparing for new jobs.

In an open letter to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) addresses his speech at the Heritage Foundation and its relationship to the sequester before she lists a number of specifics. Boxer writes,

“You delivered a speech outlining four major issues that you say are now of great importance to you: education, health care, job growth and innovation… I am sure you are aware that sequestration would devastate all of these priorities. Here are a few examples of funding cuts that would take place in 2013 alone if we cannot reverse the sequester.”

The sequester means greater danger for everyone in this country through bad food and water, workplace accidents, less homeland security, and more crime while education and training will be reduced. At the same time, job loss of hundreds of thousands of people will likely throw the country back into a serious recession. Prices will rise, and salaries will go down.

ABC News reported what agency heads wrote about the effects of the sequester:

“Greater risk of wildfires, fewer OSHA inspections and a risk of more workplace deaths, 125,000 people risking homelessness with cuts to shelters and housing vouchers, neglect for mentally ill and homeless Americans who would lose services, Native Americans getting turned away from hospitals, cuts to schools on reservations and prison lockdowns. There’s also a higher risk of terrorism with surveillance limited and the FBI potentially unable to disrupt plots, closed housing projects, and 600,000 women and children thrown off WIC.”

They also predict less reporting of major storms, pest-infested crops, longer waits for passports, higher risk of terrorism, trouble tracking fingerprints, less security at facilities abroad, almost 2,000 fewer small business loans,

It’s not as if the people in the United States have not already suffered cuts. Education has lost $1.1 billion since 2010, eliminating 44 federal education programs. Food imports have skyrocketed, but the FDA has staffing to inspect only 2.3 percent of them. A housing program for low-income seniors was cut in half since 2010, resulting in no new housing and 10 seniors for each existing unit on waiting lists.

Heating for low-income homes was cut by one-third although energy prices have increased by 31 percent. Social Security has cut 6,500 workers and closed 23 offices with plans to cut 11 more despite the 700 percent increase in claims last year. With a 13 percent cut in subsidies for low-income family child care, only one in six children eligible for that assistance now receive it.

Prominent congressional Republicans have said they prefer these disastrous spending cuts to a balanced approach that would close wasteful tax loopholes for millionaires and special interests.

As a cartoon in my local paper wrote, “If a rock just passes by earth, it’s called an asteroid. And if the rock burns up in the atmosphere, it’s called a meteor. And if the rock hits the ground, it’s called a meteorite. But if it just sits there like a rock, it’s called Congress.”

February 21, 2013

Whither the Sequester, Part 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:12 PM
Tags: , , , ,

In an interview with Rev. Al Sharpton, President Obama said,

“My sense is [the GOP] basic view is that nothing is important enough to raise taxes on wealthy individuals or corporations, and they would prefer to see these kind of cuts that could slow down our recovery over closing tax loopholes. And that’s the thing that binds their party together at this point.”

The president was talking about the sequester, set to take place on March 1 because the Republicans have refused to negotiate. Today he phoned House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Earlier this week, he called several Republican senators, including John McCain (AZ), Marco Rubio (FL), and Lindsey Graham (SC), after they criticized him for not talking to them about immigration reform.

To stop the sequester through the end of this year, the Democrats have a $110 million plan that provides an equal division between revenues and spending cuts. Implementing the Buffett Rule, it would phase in a 30-percent effective rate for incomes between $1 million and $2 million. Additional revenues would come from changing tax treatment of oil extraction from oil sands and end current tax breaks to companies who move jobs overseas.

The $55 billion in spending cuts, evenly divided between defense and non-defense programs, would save $27.5 billion by eliminating agricultural subsidies and another $27.5 billion though defense cuts. Defense cuts would not start until a $3 billion cut in 2015, after the end of the Afghanistan war, and be slowly phased in until 2021 with a $5 billion reduction. In opposition, some Democrats pointed out that Congress has already cut $1.7 trillion in spending while raising only $700 billion in taxes since 2010, 2-to-1 cuts over revenue.

Of course, they haven’t presented the plans to Congress because it hasn’t been in session for the last week. They’ll show up for a couple of days next week, not enough time to take care of the sequester before March 1.

Most of the people in the United States know that the Republicans are responsible for this manufactured crisis, despite the GOP insistence that the president is at fault, but all of us are helpless to do anything about it. With its goal of showing the weakness of the opposing party to gain seats in 2014, the GOP wastes time. They are not trying to help the economy grow or reduce joblessness because that might give a more positive view toward the Democrats. The Republicans want these “meat cleaver” cuts, and they don’t care if their actions will destroy the country.

In a last-ditch attempt to show that he is not at fault, Boehner has a 900-word op-ed in the Wall Street Journal trying to point a finger away from himself. Boehner’s words and the translation:

“During the summer of 2011, as Washington worked toward a plan to reduce the deficit” means he and the GOP held the nation hostage while the president offered him a 9-to-1, cuts to revenue.

“The president scuttled this bipartisan, bicameral agreement. His solution? A sequester” means that the president accepted over $1.2 trillion in spending cuts with no revenue which Boehner found inadequate and then agreed to give policy makers more time—typical Boehner “kick-the-can-down-the-road” approach.

“Ultimately, the super committee failed to find an agreement, despite Republicans offering a balanced mix of spending cuts and new revenue through tax reform” means that the GOP offered the possibility of tax breaks—some day.

“The president’s sequester is now imminent” means that the GOP voted for it and then spent months bragging about its own sequester.

“Unfortunately, [the president] has put forth no detailed plan that can pass Congress” means that President Obama provided a detailed plan that Boehner doesn’t like.

“By contrast, House Republicans have twice passed plans to replace the sequester with common-sense cuts and reforms that protect national security” means that they did it during the 112th Congress and the plan doesn’t carry over to 2013.

“The president has repeatedly called for even more tax revenue, but the American people don’t support trading spending cuts for higher taxes” means that he ignores “the American people” because they have supported closing tax loopholes.

“The president got his higher taxes — $600 billion from higher earners, with no spending cuts — at the end of 2012” means that Boehner forgot that he got his $1.2 trillion spending cuts with no new revenue in 2011.

“Republicans’ willingness to do what is necessary to save these [retirement-security] programs is well-known. But after four years, we haven’t seen the same type of courage from the president” means that Boehner hopes no one notices his and the GOP’s work to end Medicare and privatize Social Security into oblivion as well as the president’s willingness to “reform” these programs.

Part of the impending disaster comes from Boehner’s latest “new rule,” as ridiculous as those on Bill Maher’s show and equally created out of thin air: “The sequester will be in effect until there are cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balance the budget in the next 10 years.” Unfortunately for the Speaker, his own caucus is getting nervous about the most recent proclamation. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), responded,

“There could be a significant number of Republicans that say, ‘I’m not going there because it would be too dramatic.’ I have said to my constituents, nobody is talking about changing Social Security and Medicare if you’re 55 years or over.’ I’ve been selling it for three or four years that way. So have many other members. Well, to balance in 10, that 55 years is going to move up to 58, 59, 60. It makes us look like we’re going back on what we were telling people when we were trying to sell this.”

Even the plan from the 112th Congress, less draconian than Speaker’s recent idea but still horrifying, wouldn’t balance the federal budget for almost 30 years. The last plan was so disastrous that GOP members weren’t willing to give specifics on the numbers. Now Boehner thinks that cuts in areas outside defense of one-sixth to one-third without any revenue can solve the country’s deficit problem by 2023.

This is Boehner’s message, phrased by Rachel Maddow: “(1) the sequester would do real harm to the country; (2) Republicans will allow it to happen anyway; and (3) this is a political winner for the GOP.”

This week, the president’s approval rating is 55 percent, his highest in three years; the GOP approval rating is 35 percent. These figures are according to a Bloomberg poll from February 15-18, 2013.

A poll from USA Today and the Pew Research Center shows that 76 percent of people in the United States, including 56 percent of Republicans, want a combination of revenues and spending cuts. Only 19 percent favor Boehner’s and McConnell’s cuts-only approach. The same poll shows that people are more likely to blame the GOP for negative results if the sequester is allowed to go into effect.

Tomorrow: what the sequester cuts.

February 15, 2013

Rubio, Paul Offer No Specifics

The first televised response, or rebuttal, to the president’s State of the Union address was delivered almost 50 years ago by Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-IL) and Rep. Gerald Ford (R-MI) to the speech given by President Lyndon Johnson. This year two freshmen senators, Marco Rubio (FL) and Rand Paul (KY) gave differing GOP positions after President Obama’s SOTU. It was evident that neither one had heard the president’s speech; it was more of the standard narrow small-government, make-the-poor-pay conservative position.

Unfortunately for Rubio, he drew great attention from comedians and progressive programs about his sweating, face-wiping, saliva-cleaning, and bottle-swigging behavior. Until this year, Bobby Jindal and Michele Bachmann had provided the low bar for achievement in the SOTU response endeavor. From now on, the image of Rubio leaning over to pick up his bottle of water and then taking a drink in the middle of a sentence will predominate the 2013 SOTU rebuttal images.

Paul Krugman, however, provided perhaps the most scathing response to Rubio’s speech, writing “that zombie economic ideas have eaten his brain.” Krugman defines zombie ideas as those that have “been thoroughly refuted by analysis and evidence, and should be dead–but won’t stay dead because it serves a political purpose, appeals to prejudices, or both.” He cites one of the most popular of these zombies as the frequent GOP statement that tax cuts for the wealthy help the country’s economy. As almost everyone knows, deregulated financial markets led to the need for large government bailouts to keep banks from failing. Yet Rubio, in all his ignorance, claimed last Tuesday night that “a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.”

Another zombie is that deficit spending destroys jobs: Rubio wants a “balanced budget,” even in a recession. But, as Krugman points out, the economy was depressed because businesses wouldn’t invest. Rubio said, “Every dollar our government borrows is money that isn’t being invested to create jobs. And the uncertainty created by the debt is one reason why many businesses aren’t hiring.” Businesses don’t hire because people don’t have money to spend. Bush’s economy clung to life partly because of the 800,000 public jobs that he created during his two terms, about the same number of jobs lost since President Obama took office because of the cuts in government spending.

In complaining about excessive government spending, Rubio failed to admit that the deficit is shrinking faster than at any time since the end of World War II; the country actually had a $3 billion surplus in January.

budget deficit Friday

Part of that is came from the $2.5 reduction that President Obama and the Democrats in Congress already approved. And this isn’t good news: such a rapid decrease in the deficit will likely result in an economic recession, damaging everything from education to food safety to medical research.

The GOP that wants a “balanced budget” voted for big government with deficit-financed Bush’s tax cuts, Bush’s wars, Bush’s Medicare expansion, and Bush’s Wall Street bailout with no regard for the “mountains of debt heaped on our children and grandchildren.” Bush’s first budget began with a federal debt of $5.7 trillion. His last budget ended with a federal debt of $12.9 trillion. Obama is now sitting on a debt of $16.1 trillion. Senator Rubio’s math fails him.

Rubio’s treatment of the sequester matched other post-truth positions. He repeated the GOP myth that the dramatic government cuts to take place in 13 days (while Congress has declared a ten-day recess) is entirely the responsibility of President Obama. Yet it was the GOP House, supported by math whiz-kid Paul Ryan (R-WI) that passed the sequester. After the vote, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) chortled that Republicans got 98 percent of what they wanted.

Even a GOP representative recognized the falsehood of Rubio’s statement. Justin Amash (R-MI called the GOP attempt to blame the president for the sequester “disingenuous.” He said, “The debt ceiling deal in 2011 was agreed to by Republicans and Democrats, and regardless of who came up with the sequester, they all voted for it. So, you can’t vote for something and, with a straight face, go blame the other guy for its existence in law.”

Rubio voted against the sequester, but 28 of his GOP senate colleagues voted in favor of it. In the House, which passed the sequester by 268 to 161, two-thirds of the Republicans voted in favor while one-half of the Democrats opposed it.  Doug Elmendorf, CBO director, told the House Budget Committee that automatic sequestration cuts will cost the American economy 750,000 jobs just this year.

Republicans claim that they have a plan and the opposition has provided none. It’s actually the reverse. Both Senate Dems and the president have a sequester alternative, but they include tax increases on the wealthy instead on the poor and middle-class populations. The House action that Paul Ryan (R-WI) has talked about happened six months ago—in the last Congress. Nothing has been done in the 113rd Congress.

In his formal Republican response, Rubio criticized Obama for proposing tax increases: “The tax increases and the deficit spending you propose will hurt middle class families,” Rubio said. “It will cost them their raises. It will cost them their benefits. It may even cost some of them their jobs. And it will hurt seniors because it does nothing to save Medicare and Social Security. So, Mr. President, I don’t oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors.”

He described his neighbors as immigrants, working people, and middle class. Yet Rubio’s house is for sale at $675,000. Huffington Post has a very nice slide show of Rubio’s “working-class” home.

rubio house

During his call for smaller government, Rubio  explained that he was able to attend college because of a government loan, and his mother needed her Medicare.

Rubio thinks that minimum wages won’t work, that we just need “good-paying” jobs.  Yet the current minimum wage is worth almost 20 percent less than it did almost a half century ago, showing that just believing in “good-paying” jobs doesn’t work.

minimum-wage

Not having heard the president’s SOTU, Rubio complained that the president failed to present specifics. It was Rubio, however, who talked in generalities. Typical of GOP speeches, he called for spending cuts but couldn’t name anything he wanted to cut. He suggested changes in Medicare but vowed that none of the changes would hurt seniors. He claimed that the president wanted to increase the deficit. He pushed the policy of turning safety net programs over to states when he represents one of the most corrupt state governments in the nation.

Rubio even stated that combating the climate crisis means asking government to “control the weather.” The GOP refuses to accept that people influence climate change, but the chart showing the number of anomalies during the past half century should frighten anyone.

climate anomoliesRubio also neglected a number of subjects that the president addressed, for example, the need to repair the infrastructure would include the interstate highway system, initiated by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, that allowed the nation, and particularly Florida, to become a success story in growth of population and economic opportunity. Politicians like Rubio who call for much smaller government ignore the fact that government supports them, in Rubio’s case for most of his working life.

In his Tea Party response, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) used the same zombie ideas, accusing the president of over-spending and over-taxation. He used Ronald Reagan’s claim that “government is the problem,” the same President Reagan who increased government spending, raised taxes seven years of his two terms, and almost tripled the national debt.

Paul said that everyone in the United States is “guaranteed a chance to succeed based not on who your parents were but on your own initiative and desire to work.” Paul’s father was a doctor in the U.S. Air Force and National Guard because he became an obstetrician and then served in the U.S. government for 24 years. He, too, is convinced that the job market will flourish as soon as the government gives another big tax cut to corporations.

Paul shared the spending blame between both major political parties, further promoting the division between mainstream GOP and Tea Party members. Rubio’s party wants the sequester to take effect to destroy the president whereas Paul wants to get rid of most defense spending and foreign aid.

Like Rubio, however, Paul had no specifics. And like Rubio, Paul voted against the Violence against Women Act that would help women subjected to domestic abuse and sexual assault. There seems to be no end to the “war on women.”

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