"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“It’s Every Man For Himself”: How To Stick It To The Poor, A Congressional Strategy

The 113th Congress has stuck it to the poor at pretty much every opportunity. In fact, if you take all their past and future plans into account, it looks like they have accomplished that rare feat: To close in on enacting an overarching, radical agenda without control of the Senate or the presidency. How did they do it? Probably by escaping scrutiny through a piecemeal approach to legislation, a president who is willing to meet them halfway, and one diabolic word: Sequester.

Let’s drill down into each piece:

1. Kick ’em to the curb
Congress will basically start kicking poor people out of their homes early next year. The idea is, if you can’t pay for your home without government assistance, you don’t deserve to live in one. In this spirit, budget cuts due to sequestration will take rental assistance vouchers away from 140,000 low-income families by the beginning of next year, making housing more expensive as agencies raise costs to offset the budget cuts. All in all, about 3 million disabled seniors and families will be affected. The savings?: $2 billion, which is pretty much what the government shutdown cost in back pay to federal workers.

If you’re lucky enough to keep your home, don’t expect to heat it. Sequester cuts to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) meant that 300,000 low-income families in 2013 were denied government support for energy costs.

2. Take the food out of their mouths. Literally.
The recent reduction in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits has affected more than 47 million Americans and is the largest wholesale cut in the program since Congress passed the first Food Stamps Act in 1964.

The cuts to Food Stamps were implemented on November 1. Yet, Congress won’t let the program rest there — House Republicans are pushing to take $39 billion from SNAP over the next decade. If their plan succeeds, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 3.8 million low-income individuals would lose their benefits in 2014 with 2.8 million more getting kicked off the program each year. SNAP is one of the three most effective anti-poverty programs the government has, keeping 4 million people out of poverty last year alone. So the initial and further cuts make a lot of sense — if you despise the poor.

And don’t worry, other cuts to food programs ensure both the oldest and youngest among us won’t be spared. Cuts to Meals on Wheels will cost poor seniors 4 to 18 million meals next year. Meanwhile, the Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC), which provides health-care referrals and nutrition to poor pregnant and postpartum women and children up to age 5, has grappled with $500 million in cuts this year and faces even deeper ones next. Fair’s fair, though.

3. Dim their kids’ future
There’s nothing that will make our economic future brighter than under-educating our children, right? That’s why, again as a result of sequestration, Head Start literally had to kick preschoolers out of their classrooms this March and removed 57,000 children from the program this September (70,000 kids total will be affected). If this weren’t enough, more than half of public schools have fired personnel due to the ominous cuts — and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said sequestration “has been one of the good things that has happened.” Given that 40 percent of children who don’t receive early childhood education are more likely to become a parent as a teenager, 25 percent are more likely to drop out of school, and 70 percent are more likely to be arrested for a violent crime, this is definitely the definition of a “good thing.”

4. Erase the road map for employment
The United States has one of the stingiest unemployment programs in the developed world and it is getting even stingier. People who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more — 40 percent of the unemployed — have already begun and will continue to lose a large portion of their benefits between January and March. Eight percent of this year’s sequestration cuts are coming from unemployment insurance. The logic here is that the program discourages people from looking for work, so why fund something that just makes the unemployed lazier? The evidence, however, proves that government assistance fuels the job searches of these 4.4 million Americans. Yet by the end of December, about 1.3 million will lose their extended jobless benefits if Congress doesn’t renew the program. And cuts to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF, or welfare) means there will be even less of a safety net to fall back on.

5. Make ’em work till they drop
President Obama put Social Security cuts in his budget for fiscal year 2014, and Republicans are thrilled. Switching to a new formula called Chained CPI would lead to benefit cuts of $230 billion in the next 10 years. Apparently, it’s Social Security that’s driving up the debt, as Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said. The irony here, according to The New York Times’s Paul Krugman, is that while debt can indirectly make us poor if deficits drive up interest rates and discourage productive investment (they haven’t), investment is low because the economy is so weak, partly from cutbacks in public spending and investment — the cuts, such as this one, that supposedly protect Americans from a future of excessive debt. Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Tom Harkin (Iowa) have been fighting an uphill battle to boost Social Security benefits. But carry on, Congress. What you’re doing really makes sense here.

In just a few short decades, we’ve gone from LBJ’s Great Society, where many of these ideas originated, to this Congress’s attacks on the poor. According to the Census Bureau, safety net programs keep tens of millions of Americans out of poverty each year. But that’s just not the federal government’s priority anymore. This Congress’s message: It’s every man for himself.


By: Samantha Paige Rosen, The Week December 9, 2013

December 10, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Sequester | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Replace The Sequester, Not Sebelius”: While She Tries To Fix A Broken Website, Congress Allows Rest Of Government To Crash

An embarrassing mistake, which should be considered a scandal, has caused the Internal Revenue Service to perform far fewer tax reviews and cut back its fraud investigations, costing the Treasury billions of dollars. Have there been any angry House hearings? No.

That same mistake has forced the National Institutes of Health to cut more than 700 advanced research grants, delaying the progress of vaccines and experimental treatments. No hearings.

And it has cost the economy hundreds of thousands of jobs, according to the Congressional Budget Office, but there is no sign that Republicans want to investigate what went wrong.

That’s because the mistake is called the sequester, and Republicans know what went wrong: they caused it by threatening default in 2011 and then refusing any budget agreement that included new taxes the next year. They’d much rather investigate a serious bumble by the Obama administration in rolling out the health-care website — which will eventually be fixed — than examine the effects of their own actions.

The paradox of Republican complaints about the website’s failings has been widely noted: They are pretending to care about the technical problems of a law they want abolished. But in fact the hypocrisy goes much deeper than that. In virtually every department of government, the right wing has used the sequester to encourage government to stumble, creating backups and denials of service that will be far more damaging than the ones going on at The sequester, which has been the Tea Party wing’s sole legislative victory, is evidence that its members want government to do less with less, and that they aren’t interested in having it work efficiently in delivering services to the public.

Any lawmaker who came to Washington to improve government, rather than shrink it, would do everything possible to reverse the sequester, as Democrats will try to do in a budget conference beginning this week. (They will be joined in that effort by a few Republicans who want only to turn back the cuts to the Defense Department.) But most Republicans, ranging from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to the furthest extreme in the House, have said they have no intention of letting the budget caps expire, and certainly aren’t interested in replacing them with higher revenue.

The only thing they have clamored to replace is Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary. While she tries to fix a broken website, Congress is allowing the rest of government to slowly crash.

By: David Firestone, Editors Blog, The New York Times, October 28, 2013

October 29, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Sequester | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Love Story For The Ages”: Republicans And The Sequester

The deal allowing the government to reopen today included a mandate that the House and Senate engage in a new round of budget negotiations, with the lawmakers involved facing the unenviable task of reconciling the different tax and spending plans passed by each respective chamber. One contentious issue right off the bat is whether or not to preserve the spending levels under the so-called “sequester,” which were a byproduct of the 2011 debt ceiling debacle.

To review, when Republicans took the debt ceiling hostage two years ago, the deal crafted to avoid default – known as the Budget Control Act – mandated the creation of a “supercommittee” that was supposed to come up with a budget compromise. The sequester was meant to be the stick that would force a deal, as it included cuts that were supposedly so painful to each party that they would have no choice but to agree on something else.

Except that’s not what happened. The negotiations fell apart where they always fall apart: with Republicans refusing to accede to one dime in new revenue. The sequester went into effect and is now cutting an indiscriminate path through the budget.

Democrats, then, have made some noise about undoing the sequester, for at least a short period of time, during this new round of budget negotiations. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made clear on the Senate floor yesterday that he is not interested in such an idea.

“I’m also confident that we’ll be able to announce that we’re protecting the government spending reductions that both parties agreed to under the Budget Control Act, and that the president signed into law. That’s been a top priority for me and my Republican colleagues throughout this debate. And it’s been worth the effort,” McConnell said. “Some have suggested that we break that promise as part of the agreement. …  But what the BCA showed is that Washington can cut spending. … And we’re not going back on this agreement.” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, called sequestration, “one of the good things that has happened” and “an important thing that we have achieved.” Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, even threatened another debt ceiling standoff in the new year should Democrats try to undo the sequester.

But when the sequester first went into effect, Republicans did everything they could to blame it on Obama. They even tried to call it the “Obamaquester.” In fact, here’s what McConnell had to say about the sequester back in February: “Take the Obama sequester as just one example. The president had a chance last night to offer a thoughtful alternative to his sequester, one that could reduce spending in a smarter way. That is what Republicans have been calling for all along.”

So in just eight short months, those spending cuts went from “the Obama sequester” to a “top priority” for the GOP. How the times change.

During his floor speech, McConnell also excoriated Obamacare for “killing jobs.” Not only is that false, but if McConnell wants to see a real job killer, he needs to look no further than his precious sequester spending levels. As I noted last week, the sequester has not only been gutting important programs, but is slowly strangling economic growth.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, the spending levels under the sequester will cost up to 1.6 million jobs through fiscal year 2014.

Of course, the GOP to this point has been impervious to the mountain of evidence showing that cutting spending in a weak economy just makes for a weaker economy. So perhaps it’s best that McConnell and co. are just owning up to the fact that the sequester is something they desire and admire. It’s a love story for the ages: the sequester, once spurned, is now the one thing Republicans want to ensure will be staying around forever.


By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, October 17, 2013

October 18, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Debt Ceiling, Sequester | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Winning Hand”: Democrats Up The Ante And Push Back Against GOP Tea Party Bullies

A crazy thing is happening in shuttered, dysfunctional Washington: Democrats are pushing back.

This phenomenon is so novel and disorienting that many Republicans in Congress, especially the tea party bullies, seem unable to grasp what’s going on. They keep expecting President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to fold like a cheap suit because, well, such a thing has happened before. I guess it’s understandable that the GOP might have forgotten the difference between bluffing and actually holding a winning hand.

Late last week, Reid began demanding that Republicans not only reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, but that they also make concessions on the draconian, irrational-by-design budget cuts known as sequestration. In political terms, he is demanding that the GOP pay a price for putting the country through all this needless drama.

Suddenly, Republicans who thought it was fine to hold the government and the economy hostage in order to nullify a duly enacted law — the Affordable Care Act — are shocked that Democrats would even suggest tampering with another duly enacted law: the Budget Control Act of 2011, which established the “sequester” cuts.

Was Reid moving the goal posts? Of course he was. That’s what negotiators do when they have the upper hand.

It seemed clear from the beginning that House Republicans had overreached by shutting down the government in an attempt to block the health-insurance reforms popularly known as Obamacare. For one thing, many of the Affordable Care Act’s provisions were already in force. For another, any residual questions about the law had been thoroughly litigated in last year’s election.

Indeed, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday pronounced a devastating verdict: Fifty-three percent of those surveyed blamed Republicans for the shutdown, as opposed to 31 percent who blamed Obama — a worse pounding for the GOP than the party suffered when Newt Gingrich shut down the government during the Clinton administration. A separate Gallup survey showed the Republican Party with an approval rating of just 28 percent, the lowest the firm has ever measured for either party.

Such stunning numbers not only threaten to dash the GOP’s hopes of winning control of the Senate next year but also challenge the party’s ability to hold its majority in the House.

So there’s no question who’s winning and who’s losing. Still, it’s refreshing to see Democrats act accordingly.

The standard pattern since Republicans captured the House in 2010 goes something like this: House Speaker John Boehner makes outrageous demands. Obama negotiates a “compromise” package heavily weighted toward Republican priorities, but Boehner can’t deliver his caucus. Fearful that tea party vandals might burn down the house, Democrats end up agreeing to a short-term deal that gives the GOP much of what it wants.

It is understandable that the activist Republican base might think victory through blackmail is the natural order of things. It’s not. It’s a distortion of American democracy that weakens the nation, and it has to end.

The fact that the GOP controls the House means that its views cannot be ignored. But the fact that Democrats control the Senate and the White House means that Republicans have no right to expect that they will always get their way. This concept of basic fairness is the sort of thing most of us learned in second grade. Apparently, Sen. Ted Cruz was not paying attention.

Before the tea party tantrum that caused the shutdown, Democrats had already agreed to sequester-level government funding of $986 billion — the number that Republicans had insisted on. Because of sequestration, funding will suffer a further $21 billion cut in January. Last week, as the Senate struggled to clean up the mess that the House majority had made, Reid said hold on a minute.

Senate Democrats now want only a brief extension at the sequester level, along with further negotiations that could raise government funding closer to $1.058 trillion, the number they originally sought.

Republicans reacted with shock and horror, most of it feigned. This is the way politics is supposed to work. Obama and Reid are now in a position to win gracefully by compromising on their new spending demands. Republicans could then portray the outcome as something other than a rout — and hope the focus on spending makes the hyper-caffeinated GOP base forget about that whole Obamacare-is-the-devil thing.

This should be a lesson: When you negotiate from strength, you’re not only helping yourself. You’re helping your adversary, too.


BY: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 14, 2013

October 15, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down, Sequester | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Slow-Moving Disaster”: Republicans Remain Ignorant Of Disastrous Sequester Effects

Both the New York Times and Politico have reports out today on the debt-ceiling-denial caucus, the Republican lawmakers who believe that defaulting on America’s obligations by failing to raise the debt ceiling in a timely fashion would be no big thing. “I think it’s a lot of hype that gets spun in the media,” said Florida Republican Rep. Ted Yoho. Pronouncements of a debt ceiling disaster are part of “a false narrative that’s been perpetuated by this administration,” adds Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.

But the Times also noted that some unnamed GOPers believe that breaching the debt ceiling  won’t be a catastrophe because, they say, the government shutdown and the budget cuts under the so-called sequester were both supposed to be bad, but so far haven’t been:

But the voices of denial are loud and persistent, with some Republicans saying that the fallout from the continuing shutdown and the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration has been less severe than predicted.

Perhaps these unnamed representatives haven’t been paying attention, as they’ve been too busy trying  to deny people health insurance, but the personal and economic effects of both the shutdown and, perhaps more importantly, the sequester, have been serious and extremely detrimental to the country.

For starters, the shutdown is costing the U.S. economy some $300 million per day in economic output. Thousands of children were thrown out of Head Start, mine safety inspections have been cut back and a national computer network that helps track food-borne illnesses was closed down during a salmonella outbreak that, so far, has sickened 278 people in 18 states.

But those effects pale in comparison to those caused by the sequester, the across-the-board automatic spending cuts that came into effect due to the Budget Control Act, which was the piece of legislation that arose out of the last debt ceiling debacle. Here are just some of the problems that have resulted from the abysmally low spending levels under the sequester:

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Just because Republican lawmakers in D.C. haven’t noticed these things, doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. (And matters aren’t helped by a media with little patience for slow-moving disasters, which is how the sequester has played out.)

Remember, the sequester was never supposed to actually come into effect. But the sad fact of the current state of play when it comes to the shutdown is that the sequester seems here to stay. Even the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has railed against the deleterious effects of the sequester, is willing to reopen the government at sequester levels of spending; Democrats have already swallowed a bill that would re-open the government with most of the sequester intact.

In that sense, Republicans have already won when it comes to government spending, which is what a shutdown is traditionally about (though Republicans do have an on-again, off-again love affair with the sequester, which for a time they dubbed the “Obamaquester“).

But make no mistake: Funding the government at the level outlined in the sequester means crippling cuts to programs upon which people depend and foregoing crucial investments in the coming years. Continuing the sequester is by no means as bad as defaulting on the national debt, but it’s still a self-inflicted catastrophe. The debt ceiling deniers, then, are doubly ignorant: ignorant of the mess they’re trying to cause and ignorant of the mess that’s already here.


By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, October 9, 2013

October 10, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Republicans, Sequester | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

%d bloggers like this: