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It’s Baaack! GOP puts US economy at risk (again) over the Keystone Pipeline

Trans Canada Keystone Oil Pipeline by Shannon Patrick via FlikrJust like an unwanted dinner guest that you can’t convince to leave, the Keystone Pipeline project is still on the GOP’s legislative agenda.  Actually, it’s now at the top of the GOP’s legislative agenda.

Read the news stories: Republican leaders have apparently given up on efforts to rein in their Tea Party legislators.  Last Friday, the House voted – for the 42nd time – in their futile attempt to repeal Obamacare.  Next Monday, the federal government is probably going to close down – because Congress can’t bring itself to pass annual Appropriations bills.  Jobs bills – and legislation to repair long-neglected roads and bridges – are gathering dust on Representatives’ shelves.  Immigration reform isn’t going anywhere.  Common-sense gun reform?  Yeah, right.  (About 8,400 Americans have been killed in the nine months since Newtown.  Crisis?  How many people have to die before Congress considers it a crisis?)

But no matter what else they’ve given up on, Republican leaders are still determined to force through TransCanada’s pipeline project.  Sometime in the next month or so, Republicans plan to use debt-ceiling legislation to bypass the administrative review process and authorize construction of the pipeline by Congressional fiat.

No, it’s not the first time the GOP has used fiscal emergencies to try to push the Keystone project through.  Back in December 2011, the Republicans traded about $30 billion in federal debt for an expedited review process (which resulted in the project being rejected).  Since then, House Republicans have inserted Keystone into four other pieces of legislation, including the federal budget.

But why does Congress even care about Keystone?  TransCanada’s pipeline is nothing more or less than a construction project built by and benefitting a private corporation.  Sort of like… if Walmart wanted to build another gazillion-square-foot distribution center.  (Except that a new Walmart distribution center would probably create more than 35 permanent jobs.  Yep, that’s the number of permanent jobs that Keystone is expected to create: just 35.)  So why is Congress getting so involved in the project permitting?

One more time: Keystone is a construction project of a privately-owned corporation.   (Wondering exactly who owns that corporation?  According to Morningstar’s shareholder records, it looks like a whole lot of TransCanada stock is owned by foreign banks.)

One more time: WHY are the Republicans insisting that TransCanada be allowed to build this pipeline?

And whatever happened to “fiscal responsibility”?  Do Republicans really want our government to default on its bills?  That’s the scenario they’re setting up, by tying the debt-limit increase to construction of this private pipeline.

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You can read (experience?) the GOP’s latest press release about Keystone here.

Read NHLN’s “Why Is the House GOP Obsessed with the Keystone Pipeline” here.

Study in Contrasts: Who’s feeding the hungry?

Community Center of St Bernard Photo by Billy Brown via FlikrIn May, postal workers collected 74.4 million pounds of food through the “Stamp Out Hunger” food drive.  Since it started 21 years ago, this project of the National Association of Letter Carriers has collected more than a billion pounds of non-perishables to restock food banks, pantries and shelters around the country.

Right now, federal employees around the country are collecting food as part of their annual “Feds Feed Familes” campaign.  The program “started when Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and former Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry realized that food donations were dropping during the summer months.” It has run each summer since 2009, restocking food pantries across the US.  Last year was a record year for donations — but so far, they are on track to double last year’s total.

Meanwhile, in Congress…

Before leaving for their August recess, House GOP leaders floated a plan to cut at least four million Americans from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps).  Here in New Hampshire, nearly 116,000 people depend on SNAP benefits to eat.

But they’re still feeding the hungriest beast of all.  Corporations are receiving just as much in special tax breaks as they are paying in taxes.

At last report, corporate tax breaks were running at about $181 billion a year45 times what the GOP plans to cut from food stamps.

But unlike millions of children, corporations aren’t exactly starving here in the United States.  And corporations aren’t getting any of their special benefits cut, to help with the federal deficit.

(Guess Mitt was wrong with his “corporations are people, too” declaration. Can’t help thinking: if corporations were “people”, surely the House GOP would have gone after them by now.)

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Special thanks to all our postal workers and federal employees… who are not only feeding hungry Americans, but are also keeping Congress from hitting the debt limit (again, just like back in January).  Yes, “fed-bashing has risen to unprecedented levels in recent years.”  But here at NH Labor News, we truly appreciate you!

The Tea Party’s ‘Penny Plan’: is it really to cut $1 trillion from seniors?

Teabaggers Descend on WashingtonRemember the health care Town Halls a few summers ago?  Remember all the Tea Party followers carrying “Keep Government Out of Medicare” picket signs?  Welcome to Round Two of the Craziness.

Tea Party leaders in the Senate are rolling out their “Penny Plan” to reduce the federal budget deficit.

The lawmakers are pitching the plan in the simplest terms — cutting a penny from every dollar the government spends so that spending will soon equal revenue.  “Everybody should be able to live with one percent less in order to help bring this country back from the brink of catastrophic failure,” bill sponsor and Wyoming Republican Sen. Mike Enzi said in submitting the legislation just before August recess.

And gosh, doesn’t that just sound totally reasonable?  Families all across America have been “making do” with a little less (sometimes a LOT less) lately.  So why can’t the federal government do the same?

Well, for starters, because the federal government already IS.  Remember the Sequester? That wasn’t just a one-time thing – it’s a 10-year schedule of increasingly tough budget cuts.  So, as the government plans for the next decade:

Already built into Congressional Budget Office assumptions is essentially a freeze in all government programs other than Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the other entitlements. That means that the 15 major executive departments and all of the independent agencies will be spending about 20 percent less after adjusting for inflation and population growth than they are spending now. As a result, we are already facing significant cutbacks in government services, ranging from food safety to law enforcement, air traffic control and national defense.

And now Tea Party legislators want to add their “Penny Plan” on top of the Sequester cuts.  That’s another trillion out of the federal budget.  Where do you suppose it’s going to come from?

If the FBI, the federal judiciary, the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, the veterans medical program, the State Department, Customs and Border Patrol, the National Parks, cancer research, aid to local schools, and every other activity of every other department and independent agency of the government outside of defense was eliminated

… that would only account for about 60% of the cuts that would be required by the Penny Plan.

Don’t know about you, but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for Tea Party legislators to cut defense spending.  [See 70 years of US defense spending, in one chart, here.]  Which leaves – yes, that’s right – “entitlements”.

Shiny Penny 2001 D Macro April 30, 20101The folks pitching the plan just talk about pennies.  But the bill itself singles out three programs that help senior citizens:  Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  (Remember that more than two-thirds of all nursing home/long-term care costs are paid by Medicaid, not Medicare or private insurance.)

I wonder what a trillion dollar cut to senior citizens would look like.  (Would it maybe look like all those “death panels” everyone was so worried about, a few years back?)

Here’s another reality check: the Penny Plan already has strong support among Republican legislators.  According to one count, 16 Senators and 65 Representatives support the Plan.  The list of Senators includes at least a couple of guys who want to run for President…

… and Senate Republicans have – at least so far – blocked efforts to appoint conference committee members to negotiate with the House regarding the FY14 budget.   The FY13 budget expires in five weeks.

And the Senate still has the filibuster.

It’s going to be an interesting next few months.  I hope that, this time around, the Tea Party’s followers are able to see beyond the “just a penny” rhetoric, to all the very real damage that this Plan would cause.

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My phrase of the day is “ginning up”.  It means

  1. To create or arouse strong feelings in (someone); move or excite.
  2. To fabricate, invent or concoct (something), typically with deceitful intent.
  3. To quickly create something where time, not careful attention to detail, is of the essence.

Synonyms include: stir up, goad, whip up, fan the flames of, provoke, incite, and ignite.

Did you attend any of those health care Town Halls?  If so, you probably already know what this term means.

 

 

Political Extremism in Congress is Stifling Efforts to Improve Social Security and Medicare

2013-08-15_shaheen_social_securityYesterday, about 60 people gathered in the Dover Public Library to celebrate the 78th anniversary of Social Security.

Special guests included NH Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Max Richtman, President of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Both speakers emphasized the need to take Social Security out of the federal budget debate.  “Social Security has a $2.7 trillion surplus,” Richtman observed.  “It is not contributing to the federal deficit.”

Shaheen was frank about the situation in Washington right now, describing the political polarization and its effects.  She explained how a minority of extremists has kept the Senate from appointing members to a conference committee on the federal budget – essentially blocking Congress from passing a bill that would fund the federal government during the fiscal year that starts in six weeks.  She said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is expected to run for President in 2016, had single-handedly blocked the appointment of conference committee members on the last day before the Senate left for its August recess.

2013-08-15_shaheen_social_security3Shaheen said she understands that many seniors have a hard time making ends meet on their Social Security benefits, and said she supports raising benefits “in principle”.  “We need to have that conversation in Washington,” she said.  “But that’s not going to happen unless the partisan environment changes.”

Both speakers supported the idea of a special commission to look at the long-term future of the Social Security program, similar to the “Bipartisan Commission” that was appointed by President Ronald Reagan. “Back in the 1980s, there were only four months of solvency left,” Richtman recalled.  “Now, even without any changes, Social Security will remain solvent at least through 2033 – possibly longer, if the economy improves.”

Both speakers also endorsed the idea of raising the cap on earnings that are subject to the Social Security tax.  Right now, only the first $113,700 of an individual’s earnings are subject to Social Security taxes.

Richtman described how increased economic inequality has affected program revenues.  Historically, between 91% and 92% of all wages paid in the United States had been subject to the Social Security tax; but now, only about 81% of wages are covered by the tax.  As the middle class has lost ground, Social Security has lost revenues.

Both speakers also discussed a bill sponsored by Sen. Shaheen, which would allow the Medicare program to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies regarding drug prices.

When Medicare Part D was enacted in 2003, Congress specifically prohibited Medicare from negotiating with drug manufacturers for group discounts.  “I wonder who was in the room when that piece of the bill was drafted?” Richtman asked, and the audience laughed.

Economists have estimated that Medicare could save between $50 billion and $100 billion a year in prescription drug costs by negotiating prices.  The Veterans Administration, which does negotiate drug costs, pays an average of 58% less than Medicare providers for the most-commonly prescribed medications.

In the current partisan environment, GovTrack.us gives the bill a zero percent chance of passage.

Yesterday’s “birthday celebration” was sponsored by the New Hampshire Alliance for Retired Americans, the Granite State Organizing Project, New Hampshire Citizens Alliance and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Social Security: 78 years (and counting)

Seventy-eight years ago today, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act with this statement:

“Today a hope of many years’ standing is in large part fulfilled. The civilization of the past hundred years, with its startling industrial changes, has tended more and more to make life insecure. Young people have come to wonder what would be their lot when they came to old age. The man with a job has wondered how long the job would last.”

That was almost eight decades ago. Now, almost 90% of Americans age 65 or older receive Social Security. Almost half of those people would be living in poverty, if they did not receive Social Security benefits.

“This law, too, represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete. It is a structure intended to lessen the force of possible future depressions. It will act as a protection to future Administrations against the necessity of going deeply into debt to furnish relief to the needy. The law will flatten out the peaks and valleys of deflation and of inflation. It is, in short, a law that will take care of human needs and at the same time provide for the United States an economic structure of vastly greater soundness.”

Today, the Social Security Trust Fund has $2.7 trillion in assets. The “Old Age and Survivors Insurance” program is expected to have an annual surplus at least through 2020 (and only after 2020 would it need to dip into the Trust Fund to pay benefits).

The irony here is that President Roosevelt expected Social Security to “lessen the force of possible future depressions” and prevent the federal government from having to go “deeply into debt to furnish relief to the needy” during economic crises.

But instead, the program was used to help the federal government absorb the cost of the Bush tax cuts.

Today, we are at the decision-making point that Alan Greenspan predicted 10 years ago: either the Bush tax cuts need to (finally) end, or the government is going to have to “cover the $1 trillion price [of the tax cuts] by trimming future benefits in Social Security and other entitlement programs.”

Today, the Social Security program is under attack like never before. (Watch for my next post, about the GOP’s revived “Penny Plan”.)

And President Roosevelt’s assumption that the federal government would go “deeply into debt to furnish relief to the needy” during “possible future depressions”?

Looks to me like that’s just history.

————

Really worth reading, if you have a few more minutes: Tax attorney Paula Singer’s column “Social Security is a model, not a failure, for Washington budgetmaking.”

Unprecedented Vote on Farm Bill a Bad Deal for New England Farmers

NE_Farmers_Union

SHELBURNE FALLS, MA—After lengthy and rancorous debate, House Republicans passed a partisan 2013 Farm Bill last week that did not include a nutrition title. The bill, which includes just the farm-related provisions of the farm bill, did not receive any Democratic votes and passed by a margin of 216 to 208. The entire New England delegation, comprised of Democrats, voted against the bill.

Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) led the strong opposition to the bill on the House floor as member after member stood to express outrage over splitting programs that support food-insecure consumers, know the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, from the federal farm bill. Congresswoman Annie Kuster (D-NH) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) were among those who spoke in opposition.

Republicans disregarded a letter spearheaded by the National Farmers Union and sent to Speaker John Boehner, opposing the split. The letter was signed by New England Farmers Union and more than 500 conservation, rural development, finance, forestry and energy organizations.

“Today’s strictly partisan vote to pass the farm bill without the nutrition title undermines the longstanding coalition of support for a unified, comprehensive farm bill, which has historically been written on a bipartisan basis,” said New England Farmers Union President Roger Noonan.

“NEFU will continue to do all we can to get a reasonable bill through the conference process. Any final legislation must continue existing permanent law provisions and include meaningful safety-net protections for both family farmers facing difficult times and the food insecure.”

The bill repeals the 1938 and 1940 permanent farm program authorization, which has served as a strong incentive to draft a new farm bill every five years. Colin Peterson, Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee, noted on the floor that the bill would leave permanent authorization intact for nutrition, crop insurance and commodity subsidies, but leave conservation, specialty crops, rural development and local food with no legislative vehicle for reauthorization.

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New England Farmers Union, a member-driven organization, is committed to enhancing the quality of life for family farmers, fishermen, nurserymen, and their customers through educational opportunities, cooperative endeavors and civic engagement. For more information, see www.newenglandfarmersunion.org.

NH Congresswomen Criticize GOP “Farm Bill” Passed Today


Kuster: Farm Bill Must Not Leave Behind Hungry Families

Ann kuster head shot LGWASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) today released the following statement after voting against a flawed Farm Bill that unfairly fails to reauthorize critical nutrition assistance programs for hungry families. The bill is opposed by a broad coalition of agricultural organizations, including the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“The choice between supporting New Hampshire’s rural economy or funding critical nutrition assistance programs is a fallacy. We can and must do both, and this bill fails to meet that test. I’m deeply dismayed that House leadership is willing to abandon hungry children, veterans, and seniors in New Hampshire and all across the country. It’s wrong and unacceptable.

“There is no question that Congress needs to pass a comprehensive, bipartisan Farm Bill, but we need to do it the right way. I continue to urge both parties to work toward a compromise that will protect vital nutrition assistance funding, improve conservation and energy programs, and provide long-term certainty for the agricultural community.”

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Shea-Porter Statement on H.R. 2642, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013

Carol Shea-Porter_Official.2010-300x288WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter issued the following statement after voting against H.R. 2642, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, otherwise known as the Farm Bill:

“Traditionally, Congress uses the reauthorization of the Farm Bill to work on a bipartisan basis to create fairer farming policies, a healthier America, and contribute to deficit reduction. Unfortunately, today’s legislation would endanger the health of families and children across New Hampshire by completely removing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from the bill. Each year, SNAP benefits help 120,000 poor and working New Hampshire residents, 70% of whom are families with children, fight hunger. This program is vital to supporting food banks, soup kitchens, and hungry Americans.

“Additionally, I cannot support a bill that contains massive giveaways in the form of crop insurance subsidies to factory farms and unnecessary giveaways to sugar producers, while at the same time cutting job creating investments in renewable energy and environmental conservation programs.

“Moving forward, I hope Congress can work together to pass a bipartisan farm bill that helps all farmers and ranchers continue growing healthy and affordable food and includes vital funding for nutrition programs that help poor and working families fight hunger.”

Background: The Farm Bill was opposed by a broad ideological coalition including the National Conservation Society, Club for Growth, Heritage Action, New Hampshire Farm Bureau, New England Farmers Union, and the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation’s largest general farm organization, representing more than 6 million member families in all 50 states.

If Congressman Ryan Could Save $161 Billion A Year, Would He? The Answer May Shock You

DSC_9969Tax Credits or Spending? Labels, but in Congress, Fighting Words

The New York Times has a story about Washington lobbyists’ effectiveness in convincing Congress to pass tax breaks that benefit the wealthy.

Just one of those tax breaks – capital gains and dividends – costs an estimated $161 billion a year.  That would pay not just for the Sequester cuts, but also for all the additional cuts that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan wants to make in next year’s federal budget.

No surprise, the top 1% get 75% of the benefit of that particular tax break.  (The bottom 60% of taxpayers get only 1% of the benefit.)

Another way to look at it?  The amount the 1% gets from the unearned income tax break – just in a single year – would pay for 10 years of Paul Ryan’s cuts to Medicare.

Read the story here.  Dig into the graphic here.

If you haven’t already, read Sunday’s post about corporate tax breaks.

Wondering why you should take the time to learn about this?  The next few budget battles are going to come down to questions of revenue versus cuts, and corporate welfare versus Social Security and Medicare.  Basically, it’s going to be a question of whose interests our government will serve:  the people who can afford to hire lobbyists? Or the very tired and distracted middle class?

The House GOP is still marching to the same drummer they have been following since 2001.  Nothing much is going to change in Washington, unless we the people work to change it.

The one video every Republican, Democrat and Independent must see!!!


More than 200 people rallied at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard yesterday to rally against the budget cuts known as “sequestration”.

At the same time they were rallying, Congress passed a bill to make most of those cuts permanent.

That bill – the “continuing resolution” to fund the federal government for six months – also rescinded a long-planned increase in pay for federal workers. Read Congress Adds Insult to Injury!

The continuing resolution was crafted to protect military contractors from the effects of sequestration – at the expense of federal employees, including Portsmouth Shipyard workers. Read more about Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s defense of defense contractors here.

As Portsmouth Shipyard worker John Joyal told the crowd yesterday:

The men and women at that shipyard over there – every single day, they put their politics aside, their gender aside, their religion aside, their ideological beliefs aside, you name it, they put everything aside to go perform the people’s business.

“That flag right there does not belong to the right-wing of the GOP of our Congress, that flag belongs to the American people. What the US Congress needs to do is, they need to grow up, put their differences aside, go into a room and perform the people’s business just like the people on this island do, every single day.

There are other options. Ending special corporate tax breaks would pay for the sequester cuts twice over. Ending tax breaks on unearned income would pay for the sequester cutsplus everything the House GOP wants to cut from next year’s federal budget.

Is this the best six-month budget that our Congress can come up with?

Who’s counting? Corporate tax breaks are almost twice the Sequester cuts

US CapitolTax lobbyists help businesses reap windfalls: While Congress fights over ways to cut spending and the deficit, generous breaks for corporations pass with little notice

Today’s Boston Globe looks at the $154 billion a year that Congress has approved in special corporate tax breaks.

(Paying attention here? Those corporate tax breaks are worth almost TWICE as much as the infamous “Sequester” budget cuts.)

The Globe also begins to quantify the “return on investment” for corporate lobbying expenses. For instance,

  • Multinational corporations with overseas investments spent about $134.5 million lobbying on various issues. What did they get for their money? An estimated $11.2 billion, just in one tax break (special treatment of certain foreign investment income).
    Approximate return on investment: 8,200%

Here’s how one observer described it: “What we’re doing is running a Soviet-style, five-year industrial plan for those industries that are clever enough in their lobbying to ask all of us to subsidize their business profits.’’

It’s a long read, but worth taking the time. Read the story here. Dig into the graphic here.

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