Gov. Paul LePage wants three million acres of North Woods forests opened to development. Weeks after he was sworn in as governor of Maine, Paul LePage, a Tea Party favorite, announced a 63-point plan to cut environmental regulations, including opening three million acres of the North Woods for development and suspending a law meant to monitor toxic chemicals that could be found in children’s products. Mr. LePage said workers’ and businesses’ interests should be defended “with the same vigor that we defend tree frogs.”
Another Tea Party ally, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, has proposed eliminating millions of dollars in annual outlays for land conservation as well as cutting to $17 million the $50 million allocated in last year’s budget for the restoration of the dwindling Everglades.
And in North Carolina, where Republicans won control of both houses of the Legislature for the first time in 140 years, leaders recently proposed a budget that would cut operating funds to the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources by 22 percent.
In the past month, the nation’s focus has been on the budget battle in Washington, where Republicans in Congress aligned with the Tea Party have fought hard for rollbacks to the Environmental Protection Agency, clean air and water regulations, renewable energy and other conservation programs. But similar efforts to make historically large cuts to environmental programs are also in play at the state level as legislatures and governors take aim at conservation and regulations they see as too burdensome to business interests.
Governor LePage summed up the animus while defending his program in a radio address. “Maine’s working families and small businesses are endangered,” he said. “It is time we start defending the interests of those who want to work and invest in Maine with the same vigor that we defend tree frogs and Canadian lynx.”
When Republicans wrested control across the country last November, they made clear that reducing all government was important, but that cutting environmental regulations was a particular priority. Almost all state environmental budgets have been in decline since the start of the recession, said R. Steven Brown, executive director of the Environmental Council of the States, which works with environmental agencies across the country. What has changed this budget season is the scope and ambition of the proposed cuts and the plans to dismantle the regulatory systems, say advocates who are already battle-hardened. “Historically, we’ve taken pride in being a leader in environmental quality in the Southeast,” said Molly Diggins of North Carolina, director of the state chapter of the Sierra Club. “But there is now such fervor to reduce the size of the environmental agency. The atmosphere is the most vitriolic it’s ever been.”
David Guest, the managing attorney for the Florida office of Earthjustice, a national environmental law firm, said Governor Scott’s budget was “the most radical anti-environmental budget” he had seen in two decades of environmental work. Comparing Mr. Scott’s proposed changes with those of Florida’s previous Republican governors, including Jeb Bush, he called them “a whole new world.”
The strategies have been similar across the affected states: cut budgets and personnel at regulatory agencies, prevent the issuing of new regulations, roll back land conservation and, if possible, eliminate planning boards that monitor, restrict or permit building development.
In New Jersey, for example, Gov. Chris Christie, another favorite among Tea Party loyalists, has said the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, which preserves more than 800,000 acres of open land that supplies drinking water to more than half of New Jersey’s residents, is an infringement on property rights. Mr. Christie has moved to shift power from planning boards and government agencies to administrative judges, political appointees who, environmentalists say, tend to rule more often in favor of developers’ interests.
In Florida, Governor Scott has asked to cut staff members to 40 from 358 at the Department of Community Affairs, which regulates land use and was created to be a control on unchecked urban sprawl. Lane Wright, a spokesman for Governor Scott, said the cuts would enable businesses to grow again in Florida. The governor “does care about the environment,” Mr. Wright said, “but feels it is more important to get people back to work.”
In the first round of federal budget fights, Republicans appear to have won some of what they sought: $1.6 billion in cuts from the E.P.A. and $49 million from programs related to climate change. But they fell short in other areas. Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington policy group, said that by his calculation the Republicans had sought nearly $10 billion in cuts related to efficiency and renewable energy but got less than $3.7 billion. “The Democrats successfully defended investments in clean energy,” Mr. Weiss said.
The eventual outcome at the state level is much less clear. Florida and North Carolina’s budget battles are in the early stages. In New Jersey, where Governor Christie has been in office since 2010, he has held up stricter drinking water standards, saying he is waiting for further research by the E.P.A. And yet, in Maine, Governor LePage’s agenda has engendered such an angry response that the newly elected Republican majority in the State Legislature seems to be backpedaling from many of its strongest components. Mr. LePage’s proposal to open the woodlands has not yet been introduced as a bill. And this month the Legislature made a point of enacting a ban on a chemical detected in sippy cups. All but three legislators voted for it. (Mr. LePage has questioned whether the science is strong enough to support such a ban.) Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s press secretary, acknowledged that Mr. LePage had not gotten everything he wanted, but pointed to some victories. The governor just signed a law that will reduce restrictions for building on sand dunes, and his proposal to provide incentives to businesses to police themselves on a variety of environmental regulations is still in the Legislature. “‘We will continue to move forward,” Ms. Bennett said.
By: Leslie Kaufman, The New York Times, April 15, 2011
This was the week we’ve been waiting for! Decades into the future, you will be able to tell your grandchildren where you were when Mitt Romney announced that he had formed a presidential exploratory committee.
Who knew he needed to explore? He said he was running on his Christmas card, for Lord’s sake.
My job today is to give you a run-through of every book Mitt Romney has ever written. Fortunately, there are only two: “Turnaround,” which is about his stint as the leader of the troubled 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games, and “No Apology,” his campaign tome, which used to be subtitled “The Case for American Greatness” but is now “Believe in America.”
Perhaps three. When the new paperback edition of “No Apology” came out in February, early readers noted that not only had Romney added a new subtitle but also a new preface, ranting about the founders-hating big spenders who are now running the country. And, most notably, he had also changed some critical chunks of the original to make the text more Tea Party-friendly.
For instance, paperback Romney has now noticed that the Massachusetts health insurance law that he championed as governor does have some flaws, all of which are because of anti-freedom provisions that the Democrats in the State Legislature put in. Also, the stimulus was way, way worse than he originally thought.
We all know that Mitt has a habit of, um, mutating to the political winds. So even in its earlier incarnation, the book had a decidedly uneven tone. “Despite my affiliation with the Republican Party, I don’t think of myself as highly partisan,” Moderate Mitt wrote toward the end. This comes after 300 pages of unrelenting attacks on Barack Obama and every member of his party since Andrew Jackson. He blames Bill Clinton for everything from cutting military spending to presiding over an administration during which “birth to teenage mothers rose to their highest level in decades.” I’m sure this week’s Romney does not regard that as a partisan statement even though teenage birth rates actually fell spectacularly during that exact period.
The book is heavy into policy and rather sparse on personal history, except for the parts that relate to his dad being a successful businessman and Mitt himself being an entrepreneurial hero along the deal-making, business-closing, job-slashing private equity line. Romney’s earlier book, “Turnaround,” had some great stories about his Mormon ancestors, including a great-grandmother who single-handedly drove her children to Mexico in a covered wagon during the Indian wars. “At one point along the way, she came across freshly slaughtered U.S. Cavalry horses. She paused only long enough to pry the shoes from the wasted horses, re-shod her own wagon horses, and journey on,” he wrote. Truly, “No Apology” could use a whole lot more of Hannah Romney and a whole lot less about the causes of the decline of the Ottoman Empire.
Also, there is not a single mention in “No Apology” of the fact that Romney once drove to Canada with the family Irish setter strapped to the roof of the car. I regard this as a critical oversight, although perhaps it was Seamus that Romney was thinking of when he chose his title.
But, according to the book, “No Apology” refers to Romney’s objections to President Obama’s alleged habit of going around the world, asking other countries to forgive America for its faults. This Obama apologizing tour is an article of Tea Party faith, but one that PolitiFact analyzed a while back and found it to be false. (“Yes, there is criticism in some of his speeches, but it’s typically leavened by praise for the United States and its ideals.”)
Anybody can make a mistake, but it’s a bad sign when one of your errors is your title.
Of all the awful books by presidential candidates I have read this year, “No Apology” was the hardest to get through. To be fair, Romney does write a lot about the issues, but in a way that makes you feel as if you’re trapped at a school assembly where a long-winded donor is telling you what life is all about. (“If I may return to my engine analogy from earlier in this chapter: Our economy is powered by two pistons …”)
“Turnaround” is a much easier book to read, even though it requires a pretty keen interest in how the Salt Lake City Olympics planners saved the day after Mitt took over in 1999. I was particularly fascinated by Romney’s insistent contention that he is a fun guy. (“I love jokes, and I love laughing.”) There is not much evidence of actual humor, although Romney says that when he visited the Clinton White House, he prankishly protested being given a visitor’s badge that had a red A on it, saying, “I’m not the one that cheated on my wife.”
Maybe you had to be there.
By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 15, 2011
The Republicans who control the Arizona Legislature are back at it. The Senate just passed a bill that would bar presidential candidates from the ballot in Arizona unless they submitted extensive paperwork proving they were natural-born Americans.
That means, specifically, a sworn affidavit stating citizenship and age; a long-form birth certificate showing date and place of birth, name of hospital and doctor, and witness signatures; and a sworn statement listing a candidate’s places of residence for the last 14 years. The bill was amended slightly before passing: if a candidate doesn’t have the long-form certificate, supporting evidence like baptismal or circumcision records or notarized affidavits from witnesses could also suffice.
Even that will not necessarily be enough to get on the ballot. Arizona’s secretary of state would have to agree that the records satisfied the requirements. If not, he or she could establish a committee to investigate and submit documents “for forensic examination.”
Whatever happens, nobody is going to pull one over on Arizona. Representative Carl Seel, who has sponsored the same legislation in the Arizona House, insists that this has nothing to do with President Obama or the absurd claims that he’s not an American citizen. Instead, he calls it an “integrity measure,” meant to ensure that the state would never elect candidates who are ineligible.
The base political motivations behind all of this should be clear. But if Arizona’s Republicans are really so devoted to the idea, they should put their own papers where their mouths are.
Senate President Russell Pearce and every senator who voted for the bill and every House member who plans to, should gladly and swiftly post their sworn affidavits along with their birth certificates, baptismal and other records online for the world to see. If this is really a question of integrity, what are they waiting for?
By: The New York Times, Editorial, April 14, 2011
Sure, it’s huge, but big deficits don’t always lead to bad economic health. As we found during The Great Depression, the opposite is also true.
For those worried about the future, huge federal deficits remain the gift that keeps on giving, or taking, depending on your point of view. They are always around, always huge, and seem to be an issue that neither party has immunity from.
If you care to bash Republicans over this issue you need look no further than former Vice President Dick Cheney who told former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill that “deficits don’t matter” when the latter voiced concerns about the size of the federal bill. Cheney later fired O’Neill, presumably for thinking deficits actually mattered.
Still, Cheney was true to his word, as the White House of George W. Bush raised the federal deficit every year it was in office. When Bush started his presidency, the national debt as a percentage of gross domestic product hovered at 60%. By the time he exited, it was closer to 80%. Surely the first part of President Obama’s term will see that ratio only rise further, as the federal government fully deploys the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, the $200 billion Term Asset Backed Loan Securities Facility and the $500-$1 trillion Public-Private Investment Program, among other alphabet soup bailouts.
Of course, to critics of Obama, including conservatives, now deficits do matter a lot more than they did a year ago. Look no further than the well-covered “tea parties” to see an instance where partisanship has seemed to trump fiscal stewardship, or at least short-term memory.
By: David Serchuk: Article originally posted August 5, 2009, Forbes.com
President Obama in his speech on Wednesday confronted a topic that is harder to address seriously in public than sex or flatulence: America needs higher taxes.
That ugly truth looms over today’s budget battles, but politicians have mostly preferred to run from reality. Mr. Obama’s speech was excellent not only for its content but also because he didn’t insult our intelligence.
There is no single reason for today’s budget mess, but it’s worth remembering that the last time our budget was in the black was in the Clinton administration. That’s a broad hint that one sensible way to overcome our difficulties would be to revert to tax rates more or less as they were under President Clinton. That single step would solve three-quarters of the deficit for the next five years or so.
Paradoxically, nothing makes the need for a tax increase more clear than the Republican budget proposal crafted by Representative Paul Ryan. The Republicans propose slashing spending far more than the public would probably accept — even dismantling Medicare — and rely on economic assumptions that are not merely rosy, but preposterous.
Yet even so, the Republican plan shows continuing budget deficits until the 2030s. In short, we can’t plausibly slash our way back to solid fiscal ground. We need more revenue.
Kudos to Mr. Obama for boldly stating that truth in his speech — even if he did focus only on taxes for the very wealthiest. I also thought he was right to say that we need spending cuts — including in our defense budget. Mr. Obama didn’t say so, but the United States accounts for almost as much military spending as the entire rest of the world put together.
As I see it, there are three fallacies common in today’s budget discussions:
• Republicans are the party of responsible financial stewardship, struggling to put America on a sound footing.
In truth, both parties have been wildly irresponsible, but in cycles. Democrats were more irresponsible in the 1960s, the two parties both seemed care-free in the ’70s and ’80s, and since then the Republicans have been staggeringly reckless.
After the Clinton administration began paying down America’s debt, Republicans passed the Bush tax cuts, waded into a trillion-dollar war in Iraq, and approved an unfunded prescription medicine benefit — all by borrowing from China. Then-Vice President Dick Cheney scoffed that “deficits don’t matter.”
This borrow-and-spend Republican history makes it galling when Republicans now assert that deficits are the only thing that matter — and call for drastic spending cuts, two-thirds of which would harm low-income and moderate-income Americans, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. To pay for tax cuts heaped largely on the wealthiest Americans, Republicans in effect would gut Medicare and slash jobs programs, family planning and college scholarships. Instead of spreading opportunity, federal policy would cap it.
• Low tax rates are essential to create incentives for economic growth: a tax increase would stifle the economy.
It’s true that, in general, higher taxes tend to reduce incentives. But this seems a weak effect, often overwhelmed by other factors.
Were Americans really lazier in the 1950s, when marginal tax rates peaked at more than 90 percent? Are people in high-tax states like Massachusetts more lackadaisical than folks in a state like Florida that has no personal income tax at all?
Tax increases can also send a message of prudence that stimulates economic growth. The Clinton tax increase of 1993 was followed by a golden period of high growth, while the Bush tax cuts were followed by an anemic economy.
• We can’t afford Medicare.
It’s true that America faces a basic problem with rapidly rising health care costs. But the Republican plan does nothing serious to address health care spending, other than stop paying bills. Indeed, Medicare is cheaper to administer than private health insurance (2 percent to 6 percent administrative costs, depending on who does the math, compared with about 12 percent for private plans). So the Republican plan might add to health care spending rather than curb it.
The real challenge is to control health care inflation. Nobody is certain how to do that, but the Obama health care law is testing some plausible ideas. These include rigorous research on which procedures work and which don’t. Why pay for surgery on enlarged prostates if certain kinds of patients turn out to be better with no treatment at all?
Ever since Walter Mondale publicly committed hara-kiri in 1984 by telling voters that he would raise their taxes, politicians have run from fiscal reality. As baby boomers age and require Social Security and Medicare, escapism will no longer suffice. We need to have a frank national discussion of painful steps ahead, and since I’m not a politician, let me be perfectly clear: raise my taxes!
By: Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times, April 13, 2011