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“The Enemy Of Wasteful Government”: The Tea Partier Who Loves Wasting Billions On Cold War Weapons

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio’s 4th Congressional District hates federal spending, except when it’s for his own constituents. If his own district stands to benefit, the five-term Republican congressman and leader of the Tea Party-aligned House Freedom Caucus not only loves government pork—he’ll fight for it even if it hurts U.S. national security by redirecting funding away from vital programs.

Case in point: Jordan has pushed the government to shovel hundreds of millions of dollars into a factory in his district that makes tanks for the U.S. Army. These are tanks that, until this year, the Army did not want.

To be fair, Jordan is just maintaing a long tradition of pork-barrel politics. The tank factory in Lima has been “a favorite program for Ohio delegation earmarks, against the needs of the Army,” Mandy Smithberger, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the nonproft Project on Government Oversight watchdog group in Washington, D.C., told The Daily Beast.

The plant “has been one of the poster children for Congress adding funding for programs the military neither wants nor needs, for parochial reasons,” Smithberger added.

But Jordan has consistently portrayed himself as the enemy of wasteful government. “Federal government spending is out of control, and it is the responsibility of Congress to fix the problem,” Jordan claims on his official Website.

Jordan opposes federal funding for Planned Parenthood. He called the Export-Import Bank, which finances foreign purchases of American goods, a “waste of money.” Jordan is co-sponsoring a bill to cut federal food stamps, saying it will help to “move our country away from a culture of dependency and back toward a culture of work and upward mobility.”

Jordan championed the 2011 Budget Control Act that mandated across-the-board federal spending cuts. But Jordan was also instrumental in redirecting nearly $1 billion of the Army’s increasingly stressed budget toward building unnecessary tanks.

“We have long advocated for policies that put our fiscal house in order, and reducing our massive national debt should be one of our nation’s highest priorities,” Jordan and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, wrote in a January op-ed. “But we shouldn’t do so by putting our national defense at risk.”

“This year’s appropriation of $120 million in additional funding for the Abrams tank program will go a long way towards doing that,” Jordan and Portman wrote, referring to the Army’s 2015 budget.

But the money Jordan helped funnel into unnecessaary tanks wasn’t really “additional” money. The Budget Control Act—which Jordan defended even when other Republicans soured to it—capped Army spending. The money Jordan and other lawmakers appropriated for vehicles the Army didn’t want came from other initiatives the ground combat branch did want, in particular training and realistic war games, which the branch had to scale back owing to a lack of funds.

“We are still having to procure systems we don’t need,” Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, told Congress in January. “Excess tanks is an example in the Army, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on tanks that we simply don’t have the structure for anymore.”

(Jordan’s office declined to comment for this story.)

The sprawling Joint Systems Manufacturing Center—aka, the Lima Tank Plant—was built during World War II to churn out armored vehicles for the Allies. Today the government-owned plant assembles and upgrades M-1 Abrams tanks, the Army’s most fearsome fighting vehicles.

Thing is, Lima’s been building and upgrading M-1s for decades, ultimately producing thousands of them. So many that, in 2011, the Army announced it had enough of the 70-ton vehicles and proposed to stop buying them for a few years.

The Pentagon explained that the Lima Tank Plant would probably have stayed open, anyway, since it also builds M-1s and other vehicles for export. But the Army’s 2011 proposal, part of the budget process for 2012, would have reduced the plant’s income by a couple hundred million dollars annually and could have forced it to lay off some of its roughly 1,000 workers.

That’s when Jordan and other lawmakers stepped in, pressuring their colleagues to shuffle around $255 million to buy another 42 M-1s in 2012. Lawmakers also added tank money in 2013, 2014, and 2015. The result—hundreds of surplus tanks and a billion dollars in diverted spending.

But Jordan has defended his tank welfare as being vital to national security. “No other facility in America possesses the unique capabilities of the Lima plant,” he wrote. “It is the only plant in our country capable of producing and upgrading the Abrams main battle tank, and the industrial base and skilled workforce that supports that effort is irreplaceable.”

The facility “is not like a light switch that can be flipped on and off,” Jordan added. “Recreating this industrial base would have been more costly to the government than sustaining minimum production.”

We’ll never know if that is true. For the 2016 budget, the Army is once again asking for more M-1s, just like it always said it eventually would. This time, Jordan won’t have to force the Army to build tanks it doesn’t want just to keep his constituents in Lima happy. “I will continue seeking to instill fiscal sanity in government,” Jordan proclaimed on his website, apparently without irony.

 

By: David Axe, The Daily Beast, October 15, 2015

October 16, 2015 Posted by | Budget Control Act, Federal Budget, Jim Jordan, Tea Party | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Contempt For Poor People”: Scott Walker Wants To Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients. That Shows Why He’ll Never Be President

Sixteen years ago, George W. Bush presented to America his vision of “compassionate conservatism,” and in response he received an absolute torrent of glowing articles in the media calling him a “different kind of Republican” — conservative, to be sure, but not so mean about it.

Well those days are long past. In the 2016 GOP primaries, it’s compassionless conservatism that’s in fashion.

Or at least that’s what Scott Walker seems to think, because among other things, he is hell-bent on making sure that anyone who gets food stamps in Wisconsin has to endure the humiliation of submitting to a drug test. First the Wisconsin legislature sent him a bill providing that the state could test food stamp recipients if it had a reasonable suspicion they were on drugs; he used his line-item veto to strike the words “reasonable suspicion,” so the state could test any (or all) recipients it wanted. And now, because federal law doesn’t actually allow drug testing for food stamp recipients, Walker is suing the federal government on the grounds that food stamps are “welfare,” and welfare recipients can be tested.

This is why Scott Walker is never going to be president of the United States.

First, some context. The drug testing programs for welfare recipients are usually justified by saying they’ll save money by rooting out all the junkies on the dole, but in practice they’ve been almost comically ineffective. In state after state, testing programs have found that welfare recipients use drugs at lower rates than the general population, finding only a tiny number of welfare recipients who test positive.

But this hasn’t discouraged politicians like Walker, any more than the abysmal failure of abstinence-only sex education discourages them from continuing to advocate it. The test is the point, not the result. Walker isn’t trying to solve a practical problem here. He wants to test food stamp recipients as a way of expressing moral condemnation. You can get this benefit, he’s saying, but we want to give you a little humiliation so you know that because you sought the government’s help, we think you’re a rotten person.

To be clear, there is no inherent connection between drug use and food stamps. There’s a logical reason to drug test people who have other’s lives in their hands, like airline pilots. You can make a case that employers should force ordinary employees to test for drugs, since workers who are high on the job would be less productive (though whether that actually works is a matter of some dispute). But what exactly is the rationale behind forcing people on food stamps to pee into a cup? It seems to be that we don’t want to give government benefits to someone who is so morally compromised as to smoke a joint. But you’ll notice that neither Walker nor any other Republican is proposing to drug test, say, people who use the mortgage interest deduction and thereby have the taxpayers subsidize their housing.

What does this have to do with Walker’s chances of winning a general election? What George W. Bush understood is that the Republican Party is generally considered to be somewhat, well, mean. It’s not welcoming, and it spends a lot of energy looking for people on whom it can pour its contempt. You can argue that this is an inaccurate representation of the party’s true nature, but it is nevertheless what many, if not most, voters believe.

So when Bush campaigned as a “compassionate conservative” and did things like objecting to a Republican plan in Congress by saying, “I don’t think they ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor,” he wasn’t actually trying to get the votes of poor people and the minorities with whom he posed for innumerable pictures. He was sending a message to moderate voters, one that said: See, I’m different. I’m a nice guy. The fact that there was almost no substance to “compassionate conservatism” didn’t really matter in the context of the campaign. It was about his attitude.

And Scott Walker’s attitude is nothing like George W. Bush’s. He practically oozes malice, for anyone and everyone who might oppose him, or just be the wrong kind of person.

Proposing to force people who have fallen on hard times to submit to useless drug tests has an obvious appeal for a certain portion of the Republican base: it shows that you’re tough, and that you have contempt for poor people. But I doubt that Walker is too worried about how moderate general election voters might view something like that. As Ed Kilgore has noted, Walker’s theory of the general election is a decades-old conservative idea that if you motivate Republicans enough with a pure right-wing message, there will be so many hidden conservatives coming out of the woodwork that you won’t need moderates to win.

This theory persists because of its obvious appeal to hard-core conservatives. It says that they’re right about everything, and compromise is not only unnecessary but counterproductive. So the path to victory is to become even more conservative and even more uncompromising.

The trouble is that this theory has no evidence to support it. Its adherents, of whom Scott Walker is now the most prominent, believe that the reason Mitt Romney and John McCain lost is that they didn’t move far enough to the right (or that they were the wrong nominees in the first place). And they learned nothing from the one Republican in the last two decades who actually won the White House.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, July 16, 2015

July 17, 2015 Posted by | Compassionate Conservatism, George W Bush, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Can America Stand Rand?”: Cranking Up His ‘Libertarian’ Campaign

Platitudes typically litter the announcement speech of every aspiring president, and Rand Paul’s address in Louisville today was no exception. “We have come to take our country back,” he thundered—or tried to thunder—“from the special interests that use Washington at their personal piggy bank.”

Exactly what those special interests might be, he neglected to say — although they probably don’t include the oil or coal lobbies he tends to favor. He went on to rant against “both parties” and “the political system,” not to mention “big government,” deficit spending, and the federal debt. Naturally he prefers “small government” because “the love of liberty pulses in my veins.”

Yet Paul delivered these encrusted clichés with impressive energy, to an enthusiastic crowd featuring enough youthful and minority faces sprinkled among the Tea Party types to lend a touch of credibility to claims that he is a “different kind of Republican.” Speaking about urban poverty and education, the Kentucky Republican even name-checked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — a gesture that too many elected officials in his party, especially from the South, still find difficult. (His father Ron Paul, watching from the audience, may have stifled a chuckle, recalling how his racist newsletters regularly excoriated the late civil rights leader as a “pro-communist philanderer” and worse, while blasting Ronald Reagan for signing the bill that made King’s birthday a national holiday.)

Appealing to younger and minority voters, Paul wisely emphasized his ideas about cutting back the machinery of surveillance and incarceration. Likewise, he kept the required paeans to economic “freedom” sufficiently vague to avoid alienating potential supporters, like students who might not appreciate his hostility to federal loans and grants, and families whose survival depends on food stamps and unemployment benefits that he would slash.The upside of a Paul campaign may be that his dissenting perspective on issues such as Iran, Cuba, and the surveillance state brings a small degree of sanity to the Republican primary debate. Although he parroted much nonsense about the Obama administration’s foreign policy, he dared to say that the goal of diplomacy “should be and always is peace, not war.”

Equally beneficial would be a frank discussion of the libertarian delusions that underlie his economic platform – and the real effects that such policies would have on American communities, families, and workers.Paul still hates the auto bailout, although killing it would have cost another million jobs. While he rails against deficit spending and Obama’s economic stimulus, the clear consensus is that unemployment would have soared without those measures. No doubt he agreed with his father’s repeated warnings that government spending would lead to “hyperinflation” and depression, but we have seen precisely the opposite: a revived economy, recovering employment, and inflation that remains too low to worry any sane person.

Among Paul’s easiest targets today was the IRS, which he promises to diminish or even abolish with his favorite “new idea,” a flat tax. That was a fresh proposal, perhaps, back when right-wing academics Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka unveiled it in a 1983 book titled Low Tax, Simple Tax, Flat Tax. There is no reason to believe that Rand Paul’s flat tax would differ significantly from theirs in design or impact; namely, to worsen inequality, raising the burden on the poor and middle class while benefiting the very rich.

Mocking the federal proclivity to spend more than the IRS collects, Paul chortled today, “Isn’t $3 trillion enough?” But while he promises to “balance” the budget, his 17 percent flat tax wouldn’t collect even that amount — which means enormous cuts in every budget sector, from education and infrastructure to defense.

Authors Hall and Rabushka described their flat tax as “a tremendous boon to the economic elite” and noted, candidly, “it is an obvious mathematical law that lower taxes on the successful will have to be made up by higher taxes on average people.” We shall see whether Paul is as honest as the authors of his tax plan.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, April 7, 2015

April 10, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Libertarians, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stigmatizing The Poor”: New GOP Lie: Food Stamps on Cruise Ships

The headlines are sensational:

Kansas bans welfare recipients for spending food stamps on cruise ships.

Kansas will make sure welfare queens can’t get their palms read on the Caribbean.

The new law awaiting Governor Sam Brownback’s signature also prohibits a long list of activities including shopping at jewelry stores, lingerie shops, video arcades, theme parks and even swimming pools.

Republican lawmakers in the Sunflower State want to make sure none of this waste would happen again.

If it even happened.

(It hasn’t.)

Think of it as the 21st century’s answer to Ronald Reagan’s welfare queen, who existed mainly in the minds of conservative critics.

Nobody has offered a current and/or concrete example of a person receiving TANF funds (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) using their EBT card (Electronic Benefits Transaction) aboard a cruise ship, but that hasn’t stopped the Kansas legislature from passing a law to prevent it.

A provision included in their restrictive legislation will prevent TANF recipients from withdrawing any more than $25 a day from an ATM machine.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, says since most ATM machines don’t deal in $5 increments, the $25 is effectively $20, plus an 85 cents fee that TANF attaches, plus another couple dollars for the ATM fee, and the result is, “We’ve just made it harder to be poor, as if it weren’t hard enough,” she says.

The list of prohibited items reads like something out of the Legion of Decency, a now defunct Catholic organization that rated films according to their moral content.

And while no one is arguing these racier activities—like patronizing adult entertainment or casino gambling—should be permissible with government funds, banning them is more about stigmatizing the poor than creating any real hardship. The real problem is the $25 limit.

“This is not about a real problem, this is not a public policy decision,” says Liz Schott, of the Center on Policy and Budget Priorities. “This is all about politics and creating a wrong impression that public welfare recipients can’t spend their money wisely.”

The Kansas bill passed the House last week by voice vote and the Senate 30 to 10. Among the 10 opponents were the chamber’s eight Democrats plus two moderate Republicans.

Minority Leader Anthony Hensley told The Daily Beast the bill is “very mean-spirited, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time, Holy Week, leading into Easter. This is not something Jesus would have approved of in my opinion.”

Kansas is not alone in modifying its TANF program, and under the welfare reform law signed by President Clinton in 1996, states have the legal right to make adjustments.

States like Kansas with a Republican governor and a GOP-controlled legislature are in the forefront of the crackdown. In Missouri, a Republican state legislator has introduced legislation that would ban “cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood or steak.”

What’s behind this wave of legislation, says Brookings scholar William Galston, is a familiar grievance felt by the middle class and the working class that programs of assistance are “either not going to the right people, or they’re not spending the money in a responsible way.”

These are voters who think the Democratic Party caters to the poor, and that politicians are buying their votes with programs like TANF (overlooking fact that the poor mostly don’t vote).

The misimpressions are on all sides, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful. Cotsoradis, with Kansas Action for Children, calls the cruise ship ban “my personal favorite” because it is so ludicrous when you consider a family of three in a high-paying, more urban county in Kansas receives $429 a month; a rural family gets $386 a month.

The way TANF works, recipients take their dollars out of an ATM, and with the $25 limit, “a cruise ship is probably out of the question,” she says.

They can use their card like a debit card in a supermarket, but there’s no way to track where they spend the dollars they withdraw from an ATM. “So we have legislated something that by and large we can’t enforce,” says Cotsoradis.

Some of the provisions are just mean, says Schott, with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“It’s not even clear you can take your child on a hot day to a municipal pool,” Schott says.

How infractions like that are policed would be prone to arbitrary enforcement. Would somebody report their neighbor?

“There could be a lot of biases,” says Schott. What’s clear is the gulf between the law and the people whose behavior it is meant to regulate. “I don’t think it’s coming from a lot of fact,” says Schott.

Many if not most TANF recipients are “unbanked,” and without a checking account, how will they take out enough money to pay their rent?

“This is not based on any understanding of the daily reality of making ends meet on these inadequate benefits,” she says.

The only evidence anybody can cite of a remotely recent abuse is a widely broadcast Fox News interview two years ago when a brash young food stamp recipient boasted about buying lobster and sushi with his government assistance.

But apparently that was enough to resurrect and perpetuate that long-ago myth first spun by Reagan.

 

By: Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast, April 7, 2015

April 8, 2015 Posted by | Poor and Low Income, Sam Brownback, SNAP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Virtual War On The Poor And Middle Class”: Give House Republicans Credit For Producing A Budget This Cruel

Everyone condemns politicians for being too quick to pander, too concerned with doing the popular thing, too willing to hide what they really believe in order to curry favor with an unmerciful electorate. So when a group of politicians throws caution to the wind and tells us what they really think despite the political risk, they deserve our praise. So it is with the House Republicans, who have just released their new budget.

That isn’t to say the budget is free of gimmickry or outlandish projections (we’ll get to that in a moment). But let’s look at some of the rather notable things it would do:

Turn Medicare into a voucher program. This is accompanied by a lot of rhetoric about how the magic of the market will hold down costs (just as it has with private insurance — oh, wait) and free seniors from the tyranny of their government insurance plan. Let’s see how that will go over.

Roll back the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid and lay the groundwork for further cuts. All those millions of low-income Americans who got coverage through the expansion are suffering terribly, because “Medicaid’s promises are empty, its goals are unmet, and its dollars are wasted.” House Republicans would liberate them from this oppression by taking away their health insurance. The rest of the program would be block-granted so that states could have “flexibility,” which in practice means the flexibility to dump even more patients from their coverage.

Repeal the rest of the ACA. The subsidies that have allowed millions of people to afford insurance? Gone. Protection against denials for preexisting conditions? Not anymore. If you were expecting this to be accompanied by a few comically vague words about “patient-centered reforms” with which the ACA would be replaced while 16 million people are wondering what to do about the coverage they lost, then you’ve been paying attention.

Cut regulations on Wall Street. They’ve been having a real hard time over there, and they could use a helping hand.

Cut environmental regulations. Let’s face it, if the environment is ever going to learn to take care of itself, it needs a little tough love.

Cut Pell grants, which they describe as “targeting Pell Grants to students who need the most assistance.”

Block-grant food stamps, or turn them into a “State Flexibility Fund.” There’s that word again.

Most of these ideas are presented without any actual dollar figures attached to them, but there is “a magic asterisk” in a table located in an appendix, as Max Ehrenfreund points out. This is more than a trillion dollars of savings they claim they’ll get from “Other Mandatory” spending. Ehrenfreund explains:

Other than health care and Social Security, mandatory spending includes a range of programs such as food stamps, disability payments for veterans, the earned income tax credit, and Pell grants for college students. The budget document did not specify which would be cut. Even presuming very large cuts to these programs, though, it was still unclear how lawmakers expected to come up with $1.1 trillion, said Bob Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

By comparison, the Republican majority in the House voted in favor of reducing the budget for food stamps in 2013. The controversial measure passed only narrowly, with every Democrat and a few Republicans opposed. Many worried the cut was too severe, but it totaled $40 billion, just a sliver of the savings claimed in this week’s proposal.

At this stage, it isn’t so terrible for their proposals to lack specificity; this part of the budget process is meant to sketch a broad outline, while later legislation will set all the particulars. But let’s give the House Republicans credit. They aren’t shying away from talking about voucherizing Medicare (as their Senate colleagues did), and the rest of the document lays out a virtual war on the poor and middle class. They may toss the word “opportunity” in here and there, but the document is a bracing statement of Republican ideology.

Which is as it should be. Sure, the White House is going to criticize it, because the Democrats’ priorities are very different. Now we can have a debate. Should we turn Medicare into a voucher program? Should we toss millions of people off Medicaid and take away the subsidies that allow millions more to afford insurance? Should we cut food stamps and education grants? What are the alternatives? Those are the questions that debate should address, and then the two sides will have to arrive at a budget that incorporates the answers.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, March 18, 2015

March 19, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, Poor and Low Income, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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