mykeystrokes.com

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

Tea Party Budgeting: Everyone Doesn’t Deserve A Fair Shot

Three lessons I’ve learned from Tea Party budgeting:

1. Charles Lightroller was a chump.

Lightroller was the second mate on the Titanic. Legend holds that no one enforced the command to allow women and children to board the lifeboats first more rigorously than he did. Some call him a hero. But not me. That’s because I, like Rush Limbaugh, think Paul Ryan’s budget is “wonderful.”

And how could you not? Ryan surveys the budget battlefield and here’s what he sees: on one side, an onrushing horde of seniors, working people, and the disabled. On the other, defenseless corporations and their affluent compatriots prancing like happy kittens amongst the flowers. In the face of such forbidding odds some might duck, but Ryan strides onto the field of play and bravely interposes himself between the conflicting parties, prepared to defend the defenseless come what may.

Here’s what that looks like: Medicare, the health program relied on by millions of seniors, is replaced with a benefit guaranteed to fall further and further behind the actual cost of healthcare. Medicaid (healthcare for people with low-incomes) sustains deep cuts. But tax rates on corporations and the highest earners are lowered, while subsidies for oil companies remain untouched. Truly a profile in courage.

2. Pell Grants are destroying America.

I feel badly for not recognizing it, but it seems so obvious now. Freeloaders figured out how to get free food, free housing, and free electricity years ago, but they’ve never been able to reach the Holy Grail: free Biology of the East African Mud Turtle 101. Until now. “You can go to school,” warns Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana, “collect your Pell Grants, get food stamps, low-income energy assistance, Section 8 housing, and all of a sudden we find ourselves subsidizing people that don’t have to graduate from college.”

Welfare cheats scheming to take the college courses of their dreams? (And then not graduate!) It’s an outrage. How many of them are sitting in a college cafeteria right now snickering over a steaming plate of American Chop Suey? (Purchased with food stamps, natch.) “It’s turning out to be the welfare of the 21st century,” Rehberg says. Talk about getting schooled: that’s got to be one of the smartest theories I’ve ever heard. 

Of course, it’s not just Pell Grants that are so nefarious. It’s Head Start too, and Medicare, and Medicaid, and …(hence, Lesson 1 above).

3. Better than Government? Fairies.

A signal question in American political life today is: when things go wrong, what role, if any, should government play in trying to make things right?

We seem to have settled on some answers. When we’re to blame for the bad things that happen, we’re on our own. The same is true when we do our best but lose fair and square. But what about when people encounter difficulties through no fault of their own and in a way that offends our sense of fairness? A kid who’s born into a family without the means to send him to a good school, or a mother who works hard every day but loses her employment because global economic forces are moving manufacturing jobs to other countries? Should government lend a hand in those kinds of cases?

The Ryans and the Rehbergs conceive of a government that does so less and less. They say the benefit of helping the disadvantaged is outweighed by its expense. What they don’t say is what happens to people who no longer can rely on needed government assistance. Perhaps magical fairies come along, wave their magic wands, and everyone who used to get a Pell Grant can still go to college, only this one is taught by chocolate bunnies! And all those people who can’t afford healthcare anymore? It’s OK. They’re now living in a cottage made entirely of gingerbread!

Let me be clear: there’s every reason to be serious about reducing the budget deficit. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle should be open to good faith ideas that emanate from anywhere on the political spectrum. But it’s reasonable to ask whether using concern over the deficit as an excuse to accomplish purely ideological goals can be considered serious.

Democrats agree that the private sector should be the engine that drives our economy and that we need the discipline to cut government programs that aren’t working. But there’s something else we believe that sets us apart from the Tea Partyers: there’s a promise inherent to the American free market system that says everyone deserves a fair shot, and that promise goes unfulfilled when people are disadvantaged by forces beyond their control and we all stand by and do nothing about it.

In other words, bring back Charles Lightroller. Boy, do we need him.

By: Anson Kaye, U.S. News and World Report, April 7, 2011

April 7, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Democrats, Federal Budget, Health Care, Ideologues, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Republican Policies Don’t Care About Poor People

I’m not saying that congressional Republicans don’t care about poor people. But they really care about rich people. So far, the policy agenda they’ve pushed has been a mixture of very expensive tax cuts for the very wealthy and very deep cuts to a lot of programs that focus on the very poor. It’s . . . curious.

Think back to the tax deal. The GOP’s demands were: 1) the extension of the Bush tax cuts for high-earners; and 2) a massive cut in the estate tax. Put together, the two items will increase the deficit by close to a trillion dollars over 10 years. If the GOP had wanted, they could’ve used that money for more tax cuts for the poor, or even the middle class. The Obama administration would’ve happily signed onto that compromise. But Republicans did not want that. If we were going to increase the deficit, we were going to do it on behalf of the wealthy.

Now they’ve moved onto deficit reduction, or at least spending cuts, and their priorities in the 2011 budget are telling. Their cuts are coming from non-defense discretionary spending. That’s a category of spending, as you can see here, that tends to focus on services to the poor, the jobless and children. Among other cuts, they’ve proposed slicing more than $1 billion off Head Start, $1.1 billion off the Public Housing Capital Fund, $752 million from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, and $5.7 billion from Pell Grants. I could, of course, go on. Democrats have tried to widen the cuts out to other categories so their impact falls less heavily on the disadvantaged, but so far, Republicans have refused. If we’re going to cut spending, we’re going to do it on the backs of the poor.

As for the 2012 budget, we know Social Security is being left alone, and we know Medicaid — which is to say, health care for poor people — is taking a $1 trillion cut. If we’re going to reform entitlements, it seems, we’re going to start with the one that serves the poor.

It’s very difficult to argue that these programs are the most wasteful in the federal government. The Pentagon is burning through a lot more cash than Head Start. Medicare spends much more for health services than Medicaid. The mortgage-interest tax deduction is regressive, as is the deduction for employer-based health care, but as of yet, Republicans haven’t proposed reforming either. Again, I’m not saying Republicans don’t care about poor people. But so far, their policy proposals don’t. And you can’t chalk it up to an appetite for sacrifice, because for all that the GOP is asking from the poor, they’ve fought hard to protect the rich from having to make any sacrifices. So far, it’s been program cuts for the poor and tax cuts for the rich. It’s a disappointing set of priorities.

By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, April 1, 2011

April 2, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Corporations, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Ideologues, Medicaid, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Social Security, Voters, Women | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sen. Snowe Puts Mainers Out In The Cold To Win Favor From Tea Party

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, acted in the best interests of her party's far right, not her constituents, when she voted last week in favor of the federal budget bill. (2009 AP file)

Sen. Olympia Snowe has apparently decided that it is better to bow to political pressure from the tea party movement than to stand up for the interests of Maine.

How else to explain her vote last week for a federal spending measure that would harm Maine’s economy while punishing thousands of Mainers, including seniors, veterans, preschool children, college students and families struggling to keep their oil furnace running?

It turns out that the tea party does not have to defeat U.S. senators to claim their seat. It just has to threaten them. If what Snowe voted for last week becomes law, 700,000 jobs are likely to be lost in Maine and across the country.

This is not according to a Democratic think-tank, but an economic adviser to the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, Mark Zandi.

NO TO HEAT ASSISTANCE

Snowe voted to throw tens of thousands of Maine families off of a lifeline that enables them to get through a Maine winter. She voted to cut the emergency energy assistance program — LIHEAP — by 66 percent, literally tossing Maine families out of the program and into the cold.

She voted to undermine services to Maine seniors who benefit from the Medicare program. Payments benefitting seniors who participate in the Medicare Advantage program, for instance, would be suspended, according to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. And Snowe’s vote would create “significant disruption” to providers, suppliers and seniors who use Medicare.

Snowe voted to cut 3,500 positions from the Social Security administration, guaranteeing extended delays in the distribution of basic retirement claims and disability payments. She voted to eliminate 10,000 supportive housing vouchers for homeless veterans.

Sen. Snowe voted to knock 218,000 kids out of the Head Start program and force 16,000 classrooms to close while cutting 1.7 million college students from the Pell Grant program — their lifeline to a college education.

From the seat once held by the environmental champion Sen. Edmund Muskie, Snowe voted to cut land and water conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, and one-third of the entire Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.

Make no mistake — this was not a vote about doing the difficult but right thing to confront the federal budget deficit.

A sober debate about reining in long-term federal deficits begins by recognizing that the first step to fiscal health is an economy that produces decent-paying jobs.

Jobs fill pockets with money to spend on goods and services that in turn create more jobs. These jobs produce revenue that reduces the federal deficit. You are not serious about fueling a fragile economic recovery when you slash hundreds of thousands of jobs with one vote.

You are not serious about balancing the federal deficit when you support maintaining the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans at a price of $2.5 trillion over 10 years — exactly the amount that congressional Republicans want to slash and burn from the federal budget over this same time period.

You are not serious about addressing the federal budget deficit when you repeatedly vote to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars for the war in Afghanistan.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone account for 23 percent of the federal budget deficit since 2003.

STATE CUTS HURT TOO

The Portland Press Herald’s Bill Nemitz quoted a Portland middle school librarian who drove to the State House in Augusta last week to testify against similar tea party-driven cuts to Maine’s state budget.

Kelley McDaniel described the cuts this way: “It’s not economically sound. It’s not morally sound. And I think you know that. I would be embarrassed to support something so ludicrous — taking from the poor to give to the rich. Maybe you are testing us, checking to see if we, your constituents, are really paying attention, really listening. I hope that’s what’s going on, because the alternative involves me losing faith in representative government, in democracy, and in you, the elected officials.”

Our fragile economic recovery, our kids, college students, seniors, veterans, environment and our health all took a hit on the floor of the U.S. Senate from a senator who was once described as independent.

Sen. Snowe might think that she made a prudent political calculation by bowing to the radical right of her party and placing her political interests ahead of the interests of her constituents. But she needs to know that Mainers are paying attention. And that the seat she is holding is Maine’s U.S. Senate seat. Not the tea party’s.

By: Tom Andrews, Former Maine U.S. Congressman, The Portland Press Herald, March 15, 2011

March 17, 2011 Posted by | Deficits, Economy, Education, Federal Budget, Jobs, Medicare, Politics, Sen Olympia Snowe, Teaparty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The GOP’s Penny-wise, Pound-Foolish Spending Cuts

Let’s say that for every dollar you gave me, I gave you a crisp $10 bill in return. Good deal, right? Almost too good. But before you start to ask questions, I’ll remind you that this is my thought experiment. Perhaps I just love dollar bills. Or perhaps I just love you. At any rate, there are no strings attached, and you can take advantage of it more than once.

Now let’s say that you’re in debt and you need to get your finances in order. Do you start handing me more dollar bills? Or fewer?

If you’ve got any sense, you’ll give me more. Converting dollar bills into $10 bills is an excellent way to pay off your credit card. Except, it seems, if you’re a House Republican.

On March 1, House Republicans voted to cut $600 million from the budget of the Internal Revenue Service for the remainder of 2011, and they want even deeper cuts in 2012. Perhaps that doesn’t surprise you: Republicans don’t like spending — at least when they’re not in power — and they don’t like taxes. Why would they fund the IRS?

Well, as the Associated Press reported, “every dollar the Internal Revenue Service spends for audits, liens and seizing property from tax cheats brings in more than $10, a rate of return so good the Obama administration wants to boost the agency’s budget.” It’s an easy way to reduce the deficit: You don’t have to cut heating oil for the poor or Pell grants for students. You just have to make people pay what they owe.

But deficit reduction is not the GOP’s top priority. It’s a bit lower on the list, somewhere between “get Styrofoam cups back into Congress” — an actual push the Republicans took up to thumb their nose at Nancy Pelosi’s environmental policies — and make “Sesame Street” beg for money. In fact, if you listen to Speaker John Boehner, he’ll tell you himself. “The American people want us to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending,” he has said. And that comment wasn’t a one-off: “Our goal is to cut spending,” he said in another speech.

Cutting spending is related to, but in important ways different from, cutting deficits. For one, it rules out tax increases. That’s how Republicans can lobby to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, at a cost of $4 trillion over 10 years, and yet say they’re fulfilling their campaign promises by making much smaller cuts to non-defense discretionary spending. If you add up what Republicans have offered since the election, the policies they’ve endorsed would increase deficits but also decrease spending, at least in the short term. The IRS example shows that spending cuts don’t always reduce the deficit. But it’s worse even than that: Spending cuts don’t always reduce government spending.

There are three categories of spending in which cuts lead to more, rather than less, spending down the line, says Alice Rivlin, former director of both the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget. Inspection, enforcement and maintenance. The GOP is trying to cut all three.

Let’s begin with the costs of cutting inspection — for example, the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department. Together, the agencies are charged with ensuring that the nation’s food is safe. That’s increasingly crucial as our interconnected, industrialized system makes contaminated food a national crisis rather than a local problem. In recent years, we’ve seen massive recalls stemming from E. coli in spinach, salmonella in peanut butter and melamine in pet food. Each required the recall of thousands of tons of food and alerts to consumers who, in many cases, were screened or treated.

The problem was bad enough — and the people and pets sick enough— that Congress passed a bipartisan food-safety bill during last year’s lame-duck session. But now Republicans want big cuts in the agencies’ budgets, meaning fewer inspectors and a higher chance of outbreaks and food-borne illness. And those don’t come cheap. They show up in our health-care costs, disability insurance and tax revenue, not to mention in the pain and suffering and even death they cause.

Next up: enforcement. As any budget wonk will tell you, cracking down on “waste, fraud and abuse” won’t cure all our fiscal ills. But waste, fraud and abuse do happen, particularly in Medicare and Medicaid, where they can be costly. Republicans are looking for big reductions in the Department of Health and Human Services, meaning fewer agents to conduct due diligence on health-care transactions. Costs will go up, not down.

Then there’s deferred maintenance. In 2009, the Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s existing infrastructure a grade of D. They estimated that simply maintaining America’s existing stock would require up to $2.2 trillion in investment. But Republicans have been cool to Obama’s calls to increase infrastructure investment. Just “another tax-and-spend proposal,” Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said when the initiative was announced. But a dollar in maintenance delayed — or cut — isn’t a dollar saved. It’s a dollar that needs to be spent later. And waiting can be costly. It’s cheaper to strengthen a bridge that’s standing than repair one that’s fallen down.

And there are plenty of examples beyond that. Republicans have proposed massive cuts to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which would make another financial crisis that much likelier. They’ve proposed cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which conducts tsunami monitoring. In their zeal to cut spending, they’re also cutting the spending that’s there to prevent overspending. Just as you have to spend money to make money, you also have to spend money to save money — at least sometimes.

There are all sorts of reasons Republicans are being penny-wise and pound-foolish. Cutting $100 billion in spending in one year sounded good on the campaign trail but turned out to be tough in practice. Curtailing the IRS and cutting the Department of Health and Human Services — and, particularly, its ability to implement health-care reform — is a long-term ideological objective for Republicans.

Whatever the reason, the effect will be the same: a higher likelihood of pricey disasters, an easier time for fraudsters, and bigger price tags when we have to rebuild what we could’ve just repaired.

By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, March 15, 2011

March 15, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Deficits, Economy, Federal Budget, Ideologues, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Games People Play: How Boehner Is Playing The Democrats

Richard Nixon espoused what he called “the madman theory.” It’s a negotiating approach that induces the other side to believe you are capable of dangerously irrational actions and leads it to back down to avoid the wreckage your rage might let loose.

House Republicans are pursuing their own madman theory in budget negotiations, with a clever twist: Speaker John Boehner is casting himself as the reasonable man fully prepared to reach a deal to avoid a government shutdown. But he also has to satisfy a band of “wild-eyed bomb-throwing freshmen,” as he characterized new House members in a Wall Street Journal interview last week by way of comparing them fondly to his younger self.

Thus are negotiators for President Obama and Senate Democrats forced to deal not only with Republican leaders in the room but also with a menacing specter outside its confines. As “responsible” public officials, Democrats are asked to make additional concessions just to keep the bomb-throwers at bay.

This is the perverse genius of what the House Republicans are up to: Nobody really thinks that anything like their $57 billion in remaining proposed budget cuts can pass. It’s unlikely that all of their own members are confident about all of the cuts they have voted for. But by taking such a large collection of programs hostage, the GOP can be quite certain to win many more fights than it would if each reduction were considered separately.

Begin with the outrageous $1.1 billion, 15 percent cut from Head Start, a program that offers preschool education to roughly 965,000 poor children. According to the Center for Law and Social Policy, this would knock 218,000 kids out of Head Start and force 16,000 classrooms to close.

That is an excellent way to lose the future, as Obama ought to be saying. What could be a better use of public money than helping our poorest children early in life so they might achieve more in school, and later?

And for those who say that Head Start is not as good as it should be, the administration announced plans in September to require lower-performing Head Start programs to compete against other entities for continued funding. Isn’t this the sort of competition conservatives say they’re for?

Given what science has shown about the importance of a child’s first years, we need better and broader early childhood programs. Slashing them can only cause harm – to parents, to children and to the country.

Then there are the cuts at the other end of the education continuum. The House budget would reduce the maximum Pell Grant, which helps needy kids go to college, by $845, from $5,550 available now. According to Mark Kantrowitz, who publishes the FinAid Web site that gives financial-aid advice, 1.7 million low-income students would lose eligibility for Pell Grants, almost a fifth of current recipients. Is that what Americans voted for last November?

But here is where the Republicans’ strategy works so brilliantly. Let’s assume that neither the administration nor Senate Democrats – even the most timid among them – can allow the Head Start or Pell Grant cuts to go through. That still leaves a lot of other truly worthy programs to be defended. By heaping cut upon cut, Republicans get advocates of each particular cause fighting among themselves.

And with so many reductions on the table, voters who would actually oppose most of them if they knew the details don’t get to hear much about any individual item because the media concentrate almost entirely on the partisan drama of the shutdown fight, not the particulars.

You can also imagine the argument from those Democrats petrified of their own shadows. “Well,” say the scaredy-cats, “we have to save Pell Grants and Head Start, so why don’t we give House Republicans what they want on the National Endowment for the Arts – or their cuts in foreign aid, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, medical research, the Women Infants and Children program, meals-on-wheels or mine safety inspections? I mean, we have to give them something, or those crazies will shut down the government, and we might get blamed.”

Boehner can just sit back and smile benignly as Democrats battle over which concessions they should give him. When the negotiating gets tough, he can sadly warn that his freshmen need more because he can’t guarantee what they’ll do. The perpetually tanned one is a shrewd dude. Democrats who underestimate him will be playing into his hands.

By: E. J. Dionne, Op-Ed Columnist, The Washington Post, March 7, 2011

March 6, 2011 Posted by | Deficits, Economy, Federal Budget | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: