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GOP in Congress: Keeping — or BREAKING? — Promises

Crossed fingers ICan someone please explain to me… how can the GOP be simultaneously

  • planning to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits
    and
  • holding sacrosanct the government’s payments to bondholders?

What, exactly, is the big difference?  For Social Security and Medicare, people have paid money into the system, with the expectation that they would receive an agreed-upon return (benefits) at a later date.  Just the same way that bondholders have loaned money, with the expectation that they would receive an agreed-upon return (principal plus interest) at a later date.

Would bondholders be happy if House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan suggested trimming bond repayments between 15% and 45%?  So why should people who have paid into Social Security accept those kinds of cuts?

Let’s see… if Ryan reduced federal bond payments by 15%, wouldn’t that free up about $54 billion a year?  Wait… wouldn’t that more than cover the $40 billion of cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program that Republicans want to make?

Pediatricians at the Boston Medical Center have studied the interaction between hunger and health, and yesterday announced that SNAP was “one of America’s most cost-effective and successful public health programs in the country” and by improving children’s health, SNAP actually “saves society money.”  Except that Republicans want to cut children’s health insurance, too.  At this point, you halfway expect House leadership to start quoting Jonathan Swift.  But I digress.

Or if Ryan reduced bond payments by 45%, wouldn’t that free up about $162 billion a year?  Which would more than cover the revenue cost of not returning to Clinton-era tax rates.

But the GOP isn’t suggesting that bondholders should absorb those sorts of cuts…oh, no, that would be unthinkable.  So why would they think that Social Security recipients are fair game?

You pay your money in, you expect to get it back as promised.

Here’s what I think will happen, during the next few weeks of government shutdown/debt-limit crisis.  I think the Republicans will stop using Obamacare as their line in the sand/can’t compromise issue.  I think they will switch to insisting on some sort of “Entitlement Reform” in exchange for not driving our economy totally off the cliff.  And “Entitlement Reform” is Tea Party lingo for making cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

At one level, I guess it’s fair to lump Social Security and Medicare into the category of “entitlements” – you pay your money in, you’re entitled to get it back as promised.

Just like the US Treasury’s bondholders are entitled to get their money back as promised.

I’m wondering how the GOP is going to explain the difference between those promises, over the next few weeks.  Can’t imagine what rhetoric they will come up with, to justify holding bondholders harmless while trying to cut Social Security benefits.

 

Translating from TeaPartyese: What “negotiate” really means

Stahlwille ratchet head (1/2 SQ)Don’t let them fool you.

When GOP Congressmen say they “just want to negotiate” – what they’re really saying is “we’re going to have it our way”.

And when they talk about “compromise” – they’re really talking about “ratcheting it down even further.”

You know how a ratchet works, right?  When you turn it, the screw can only go one way.  And the Tea Party’s position is: government can only get smaller.

They’re yelling about the federal deficit – and accumulated federal debt – but the only “solution” they’re willing to entertain is to cut spending.  Have you heard anybody suggest raising revenues, lately?

The fact is: as a share of the nation’s economy, federal tax revenues are at almost-record lows. Yes, they were lower, back when Harry Truman was President – but that was before Medicare was enacted in 1965.

Federal Tax Revenues as Percentage of GDP

And it looks like the GOP may have already won the federal budget game.

Remember 2011, when House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan came out with his budget“$4 trillion of cuts over decade

Remember how radical that budget seemed, back then?  How far to the right?  How extreme the cuts appeared?

Now, take a closer look at the “continuing resolution” passed by the Democratically-controlled Senate last week, in a last-ditch effort to avoid the government shutdown.

Yeah, the same “continuing resolution” that the House GOP won’t send to an up-do-down vote, without further concessions.

Funding levels in that “continuing resolution” are about 10% less than what Chairman Ryan proposed, back in 2011.

And it came from the Democrats.

And it’s still not enough for the GOP.

Ratchet, ratchet, ratchet.

—————————————

Read more about how the Senate’s continuing resolution compares to the Ryan budget here.

See the tax revenue data that my chart is based on here.

 

 

 

Want to keep the government afloat? Here’s the list of House GOP demands


Just like the old Ginzu Knife commercials… “But wait, there’s more!”

Yes, House GOP leaders are insisting on a one-year delay of Obamacare (aka, the Affordable Care Act) as a condition of resolving this latest federal fiscal fiasco.

But that’s not all they’re looking for.

As compiled by the New York Times, here’s the list of House GOP leaders’ other demands:

…fast-track authority to overhaul the tax code, construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, offshore oil and gas production and more permitting of energy exploration on federal lands… roll back regulations on coal ash, block new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on greenhouse gas production, eliminate a $23 billion fund to ensure the orderly dissolution of failed major banks, eliminate mandatory contributions to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, limit medical malpractice lawsuits and increase means testing for Medicare, among other provisions.

Does anybody (other than Fox News and a few hundred Internet trolls) still think the House leadership is trying to “compromise” and resolve this latest Congress-created crisis?

 

GOP House Members still fighting? Gonna be costly.

No, it’s not de ja vu. It’s just that… so much of it is still exactly on-point.  Wish it wasn’t, but it is. So, with very few updates, here’s a repeat of my post from February 6, 2013:

————————

Last person leaving, please dock the doorsHoping for bipartisan cooperation, now that the election is over? Think again.

The weekend before the inauguration, Republicans gathered in Williamsburg to discuss strategies for “fighting” the President. Just a week later, former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan was telling a gathering of conservatives that “Republicans control both the House and most of the statehouses. So we have to oppose the president and the Senate on some fronts—and engage them on others…”

Does that sound like cooperation to you?

Looks like it’s going to be an interesting next few months. Two dates to mark on your calendar:

On March 1st, the sequestration cuts are scheduled to go went into effect. Cutting government services through these automatic, across-the-board cuts is expected to send the economy back into recession. One example: according to a study commissioned by the airline industry, the FAA’s share of the sequestration cuts is about $1 billion a year. That cut would reduce the nation’s air traffic between 5% and 10%, and the country would lose between 66,000 and 132,000 jobs related to air transportation. The irony? The economic losses would cause tax revenues to drop by as much as $1 billion a year. (Hmmn… $1 billion in tax revenues lost because of a $1 billion spending cut. Not a whole lot of deficit-reduction going on, is there?)  After members of Congress were inconvenienced by airport delays, the FAA was granted special treatment under the sequestration act.  Recent estimates of the economic costs of sequestration include:  1.6 million jobs and 1.2% of GDP.

On March 27th  September 30th, the “continuing resolution” that funded federal government expired. That means a possible “government shutdown”. According to Politico, a majority of GOP House members “are prepared to shut down the government to make their point. House Speaker John Boehner ‘may need a shutdown just to get it out of their system,’ said a top GOP leadership adviser.”

What happens if the government shuts down? Federal employees who are deemed “essential” are still required to go to work – they just don’t get paid until after Congress approves a bill to pay them. The last time there was a significant government shutdown, almost a half-million federal employees were required to work without pay for three weeks.

The economic damage went far beyond the family finances of federal employees. The crisis also caused 11 states to suspend unemployment insurance, due to lack of federal funds. Veterans’ services were suddenly unavailable (including counseling, vocational rehabilitation, and pension and education payments). The crisis affected the oil industry, leaving more than 10,000 barrels a day untapped while companies waited for federal reviews. The tourism industry suffered millions of dollars in losses each day of the shutdown, because passports and visas were not processed. The housing industry suffered when $800 million worth of mortgage loans were delayed. The crisis halted cleanup of 609 toxic waste sites. It left hundreds of thousands of children in limbo, waiting for foster care or adoption.

And that was only a partial government shutdown. Most of the government still had funding, during that shutdown. (Just imagine what may happen on March 27th! now!)

There’s a moral here, folks. Government services are integral to our nation’s economy.

Is there any hope that Congress could learn that lesson, in the next month or so? Or is the GOP going to insist on doing economic damage, “just to get it out of their system”?

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.

—–

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.)

——-

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!

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.

Barry Goldwater explains: why Chained-CPI is such a big, hairy deal

Bactrian Camel by Just_Chaos via flikrBack in 1958, Barry Goldwater explained his opposition to a bill this way:   “If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.”

In other words: a tremendous – unwanted – change can be started by a little tiny encroachment… and then the rest of the change will come right along behind it.

Those of us in the union movement have seen this strategy in action, too many times to count.

Recognize this scenario?  Workers used to have fully-paid health insurance.  Then management insisted on a small “contribution” toward the cost.  Then premiums were “shared”.  Now, in too many workplaces, there is no health insurance at all.

How about this one?  Workers used to have employer-sponsored pension plans.  Then employers insisted on moving to 401(k) plans.  Now, very few jobs (other than at the CEO level) offer any type of retirement plan at all.

Or this one?  Union workers used to have job security.  Then employers insisted on contract amendments so they could hire part-timers or contractors “in emergencies”.  Now, some worksites are staffed entirely by part-timers or contract employees, and job security is very, very hard to find.

As Barry Goldwater described things: It’s the camel’s nose, creeping in… and the rest of the camel soon follows.

And that’s why union leaders are reacting so strongly to proposals that would change Social Security benefits by tying Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) to “chained CPI” (rather than the usual Consumer Price Index).

Union members have had enough experience with this strategy; by now, we recognize a camel’s nose when we see one.

The idea of “privatizing” Social Security has been rattling around the Republican Party since Barry Goldwater ran for President.

But it hasn’t happened yet – despite the recent best efforts of George W. Bush and Paul Ryan.

So during debt limit negotiations in the summer of 2011, the Republicans took a different tack.  Rather than trying to get the camel in through the tent door… they just asked for a little, tiny change to the way that Social Security COLAs are calculated.  Just one little, tiny change.

That debt limit crisis was resolved – with the camel’s nose still outside the tent – by the deal we all know as “sequestration”.  And since that time, the Fiscal Cliff has passed and a possible government shutdown has been avoided.  But that one little tiny change to Social Security has remained a Republican priority.

The White House held a press briefing the day before President Obama’s budget was filed.  One important point from that briefing was never covered by the mainstream press:

[S]enior administration officials characterized the official adoption of Chained CPI as both a recognition that rounding out a grand bargain will require making concessions to the GOP, and as a final gesture of good faith to Republicans in Congress… But the officials also stressed that Chained CPI will never become law unless Republicans respond (in unlikely fashion) by agreeing to limit tax expenditures benefiting high-income earners.  If they don’t, it will mark the end of Obama’s two-year quest to secure trillions of dollars in deficit reduction on a bipartisan basis.

In other words, don’t believe new National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden when he talks about chained CPI as “a shocking attack on seniors.”

How can it possibly be “shocking”, Rep. Walden?

Republicans have been trying to “reform” Social Security since Barry Goldwater ran for President, almost half a century ago.

And Barry Goldwater knew full well how to get a camel into the tent.

 

The House GOP Is Acting Like Teenagers, As President Obama Submits His Budget

This Wednesday, President Obama is expected to file his budget proposal for the next fiscal year.

Are you wondering why his budget is expected to include

Straight from an observer in DC, here is the best explanation I’ve heard so far:  Having President Obama support these policies is a guaranteed way to get Republicans to oppose them.

“Yes, we have reached that level of adolescence on Capitol Hill.”

Here’s the thing about teenagers: they don’t always think ahead to the consequences of their actions.

What Does The GOP Stand For? Why Are More Republicans Not Pushing Back Against Their Current Direction

Republican Presidents

Only a fool would try to deprive
working men and working
women of their right
to join the union of their choice.
– President Dwight D. Eisenhower

In New Hampshire, about 40% of union members are members of the Republican Party.

 

If you’re part of that 40% — or even if you’re not — there’s an opinion piece in today’s New York Times that you really ought to read.  Here’s an excerpt:

This is not a situation that any freethinking Republican should accept. Skewing income toward the upper, upper class hurts our economy because the rich tend to sit on their money — unlike lower- and middle-income people, who spend a large share of their paychecks, and hence stimulate economic activity.

But more fundamentally, it cuts against everything our country and my party stand for. Government’s role should not be to rig the game in favor of “the haves” but to make sure “the have-nots” are given a fair shot.

 

Maybe if more “life-long Republicans” challenged the direction the GOP has been taking lately… if party leaders could be convinced to return to the party’s core principles… if rank-and-file Republicans stood up and said “our party should stand for more than just protecting the rich”…

…maybe then the folks down in DC could end their gridlock and actually solve our economic problems.

 

Read the New York Times piece by former FDIC Chair Sheila Bair here.

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