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Granite State Rumblings: Budget Agreement Ups And Down – We Must End The Sequester

Congress West Front Last week Congress passed a budget proposal that locks in funding for the next two years.

It also did several other important things:

In addition to providing more funding that can be used for children’s programs by significantly curtailing for the next two years the “sequester” cuts, that were enacted in 2013, the agreement prevents a 20% cut in disability benefits that some children receive, and it protects the program for the next several years.

Additionally, this agreement ends the threat of government shutdowns and defaulting on the federal government’s debt for the next two years.

These events would have damaged the American economy and threatened jobs.

To see what else the deal entails click here.

On Monday morning President Obama signed the agreement. Here are his remarks:

Remarks by the President at Signing of the Budget Act of 2015

Oval Office

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, last week, Democrats and Republicans came together to set up a responsible, long-term budget process, and what we now see is a budget that reflects our values, that grows our economy, creates jobs, keeps America safe.

It’s going to strengthen the middle class by investing in critical areas like education and job training and basic research.  It keeps us safe by investing in our national security and making sure that our troops get what they need in order to keep us safe and perform all the outstanding duties that they do around the world.  It protects our seniors by avoiding harmful cuts to Medicare and Social Security.  And it’s paid for in a responsible, balanced way — in part, for example, by making sure that large hedge funds and private equity firms pay what they owe in taxes just like everybody else.

And by locking in two years of funding, it should finally free us from the cycle of shutdown threats and last-minute fixes. It allows us to, therefore, plan for the future.

So I very much appreciate the work that the Democratic and Republican leaders did to get this to my desk.  I think it is a signal of how Washington should work.  And my hope is now that they build on this agreement with spending bills that also invest in America’s priorities without getting sidetracked by a whole bunch of ideological issues that have nothing to do with our budget.

So this is just the first step between now and the middle of December, before the Christmas break.  The appropriators are going to have to do their job; they’re going to have to come up with spending bills.  But this provides them the guidepost and the baseline with which to do that.  And I’m confident that they can get it done on time.  And there’s no better Christmas present for the American people because this will allow the kind of stability and will allow the economy to grow.  At a time when you’ve got great weakness in economies around the world, this puts us on a responsible path and it makes sure that the American people are the beneficiaries.

So I very much appreciate the work.  Let’s keep it going.  With that I’m going to sign it.

(The bill is signed.)

And I want to thank, in particular, the staffs of both Democratic and Republican leaders in both the House and the Senate because they worked overtime to get this done.  I want to thank my own staff — in particular, Katie Fallon and Brian Deese, who are standing in the back.  They gave up a bunch of lost weekends to make this happen, but they did an outstanding job.  And we’re very proud of them.

Thank you very much, everybody.

While the Every Child Matters Education Fund believes that the federal government needs a comprehensive approach, with significant new resources, to address the 16 million children and youth living in poverty who lack a fair shot at success in life, we support this budget agreement and are pleased that the President has signed it.

This agreement is good step in the right direction toward limiting the harmful effects of the sequester cuts. In recent years budget cuts have put enormous pressure on programs that support children and families. According to experts, overall domestic funding is set to force investments in domestic programs to historic lows over the next few years as a percentage of the economy. Yet while this budget deal will not undo these cuts, the deal eliminates 90 percent of the harmful sequester cuts that would have taken effect in fiscal year 2016 and 60 percent of the cuts that would have taken effect in fiscal year 2017 without action.

We asked you to write, e-mail, and call your Members of Congress with the message that the harmful sequester cuts must end. Your actions helped to convince them to vote for this budget agreement.

Budget Act of 2015 votes:

NH – Senator Ayotte, Senator Shaheen, Congresswoman Kuster – AYE

NH — Congressman Guinta – NAY

ME – Senator Collins, Senator King, Congresswoman Pingree,

ME — Congressman Poliquin – AYE

Thank you for taking action!

But our work is not finished.

As our friends at the Coalition on Human Needs point out:

Appropriators in Congress will now begin to divvy up these new top-line dollar figures for the different departments in the federal government and draft legislation that must pass by December 11 when the current government funding runs out. There will be many challenges along the way – both in terms of making sure the money we’ve all fought so hard for goes to the programs that need it, and that no ideological policy changes (known as riders) harm human needs programs or stop the legislation in its tracks and cause a government shutdown.

Advocates across the country need to continue to weigh in with their members of Congress to ensure that we cross the finish line with a funding package that does the most it can to meet the needs of human needs programs and our neighbors they serve.

We will keep you updated as the appropriations process moves forward.


GROWING UP GRANITE

The excerpt below is from the Introduction of a new report from the Center for American Progress by Danielle Ewen and LeighAnn M. Smith.

Fostering School Success with Standards for Nonacademic Skills

When we look at a newborn, we rarely think about the child’s potential for success and skills development for college and career readiness. Instead, we are awed by the baby’s mere existence: her strong grip; her smile; how her eyes track loved ones; how each cry communicates a need to be met. We now know that each of these moments is also an opportunity for the child’s brain to grow; to make new social, emotional, and cognitive connections; and to form important neurological pathways.

As children move from infancy to toddlerhood and into preschool, their brains continue to grow and change. Parents, caregivers, and other trusted adults provide input that helps children master the basic skills they will need in order to climb slide ladders, hold pencils to spell their names, excitedly tell the story of their day, and understand when they are asked to put their toys away.

As children move into kindergarten and first and second grades, they begin to build on these earliest social, emotional, physical, and academic skills. They learn to read and do math; to play with their friends; and to follow rules in the classroom and on the playground. Each new milestone sets these children on the path to college and career readiness.

New evidence highlights the importance of social and emotional skills alongside academic skills for success in school and beyond. Academic skills—including basic literacy and math skills—are well defined and include skills such as learning the alphabet and counting. Social and emotional skills, meanwhile, include sharing, self-control, and building relationships with peers and adults. Yet, when states look to align early learning standards with those for K-12, social and emotional skills are often left out of the standards for children in elementary, middle, and high school—even as new research highlights the importance of these skills throughout elementary school and beyond.

This report explores the reasons for including social and emotional learning in early education standards, as well as detail about the five domains of learning—cognition, approaches to learning, social and emotional development, physical development, and language development—and how several states have incorporated them into their learning standards. By using these examples as guidelines for their own educational standards, other states can align early learning guidelines with standards for K-12 in order to support academic and social-emotional skills for all children.

The Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy is hosting viewing parties for the broadcast premier of Raising NH this Thursday, November 5th.

Can you come?

WHAT: “Raising New Hampshire” watch parties
WHEN: This coming Thursday night, Nov 5th at 8pm
WHERE: Concord, Manchester, Wolfeboro, Salem, and more.
RSVP NOW!

This fascinating new special produced by NH Public Television and the Endowment for Health delves into the ways New Hampshire’s kids and parents are impacted by the early education system – what’s working, what’s not, and how it can be fixed.

It’s a must-see for anyone who cares about the next generation of Granite Staters.  And the discussion is going to be great.

RSVP to join us for a free screening near you right now.

There are watch parties confirmed in Concord, Manchester, Salem and Wolfeboro– and we’re adding more every day. Be sure to invite your friends and family to come along.

See the screening locations and sign up for a watch party today.

Budget Cuts Could Make Arizona Town a “Welfare City” [VIDEO]

Sequestration hits home for Ft. Huachuca workers as cuts threaten community;
AFGE urges swift passage of recently-announced two-year budget deal

FT. HUACHUCA, ARIZ. – The threat of sequestration and further federal budget cuts has employees at Fort Huachuca and Army bases across the country bracing for the worst, as a new video from the American Federation of Government Employees illustrates.

Fort Huachuca, located near the U.S.-Mexico border in Sierra Vista, Ariz., already has lost 1,100 civilian positions during the past 18 months due to budget cuts, says Katie Rasdall, president of AFGE Local 1662.

In response to sequestration and ongoing budget cuts, the Army plans to cut civilian staff at Fort Huachuca and more than two dozen other bases by another 30% between now and 2020.

“If sequestration continues and we start to plan for the 2020 budget cuts, there won’t be anything left here,” Rasdall said.

Mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, sequestration would force the Department of Defense and other federal agencies to make more than a trillion dollars in automatic spending cuts to programs and services over 10 years. DoD leaders have warned that sequestration will erode the nation’s defense capabilities and put the nation at risk.

AFGE supports the bipartisan budget deal announced Monday that would suspend sequestration for the next two years and provide much-needed increases in military and domestic spending.

Fort Huachuca already is seeing the effects of the federal budget cuts on area businesses and service providers who depend on the base and its workers for their own living. Job cuts at the base have taken their toll on the housing and real estate markets in Sierra Vista, residents say.

Long-time residents like Fran Kosinski, a military retiree and current member of AFGE Local 1662, say families won’t be able to make ends meet if the cuts continue.

“We’re going to become a welfare city, basically,” Kosinski says.

For more information, visit www.afge.org/DefendOurJobs.

 

 

Congress Pushes Budget Deal To Avoid Shutdown, Delays Sequester, And Partially Preserve Social Security

Today the White House and congressional leadership announced a budget agreement that sets government funding levels for two years and extends the nation’s borrowing limit through 2017. The agreement provides the defense and domestic discretionary budgets with equal relief from mandatory spending cuts.

“This budget agreement provides a balanced approach to funding the federal government over the next two years,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen. “I’m very encouraged that leadership in Congress and the White House were able to find a bipartisan compromise that lifts the debt ceiling and provides much needed relief from across the board budget cuts known as sequestration. More blind budget cutting would be disastrous for New Hampshire families and our state’s economy. It’s my hope that Congress can quickly approve this legislation and avoid any last-minute brinkmanship that could threaten the full faith and credit of the United States.”

American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. praised the deal as it relieved workers from the fear of another government shutdown and forced unpaid furloughs. 

“This budget deal is an exceedingly rare example of what can be accomplished when elected leaders put aside their partisan bickering and govern in a responsible way that benefits working families.

The bipartisan budget deal announced by congressional leaders and the White House would suspend sequestration for the next two years and provide much-needed increases in military and domestic spending.

Federal workers have endured $159 billion in cuts under the guise of fiscal restraint, and our members were united in opposing any budget that would target them for additional sacrifice.

The budget also is good news for federal retirees under the Civil Service Retirement System, who will no longer be facing a 53% increase in their premiums under Medicare Part B.

Federal employees are relieved that they will no longer be facing the threat of another government shutdown or unpaid furloughs. We urge the Congress to repeal the Budget Control Act altogether so that these manufactured crises will no longer occur.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka appeared to be more relieved than joyful over the deal.

“Congressional leaders and the President successfully eluded the traps set by a conservative faction in Congress who have tried to hold our economy hostage to achieve their radical agenda.

The full faith and credit of the United States will be preserved as we pay our bills on time – preventing brinksmanship over the debt until 2017.

Tight budget caps on defense and non-defense spending will be eased, restoring funding for vital programs and stimulating the economy. While it fails to provide Medicare beneficiaries with full relief from higher costs, it reduces a spike in deductibles for everyone and avoids a sharp increase in premiums for many. It ensures that 11 million Americans on Social Security Disability Insurance continue to receive full benefits through 2022. It avoids across-the-board benefit cuts of nearly 20 percent starting in 2016. 

While it does not offer long-term solutions for these problems, it provides relief without yielding to the conservatives’ extreme “entitlement reform” approaches that would have done real harm.

Now that we have again kept our country from going over the edge, we hope lawmakers will work on a raising wages agenda that can bring better lives to working families.”

Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans was pleased that Congress avoided massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare and vowed to continue pushing for a more accurate way to calculate the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly. 

“Movement to prevent a default and avert a government shutdown is welcome news for all Americans, but the deal is not perfect.

The Alliance for Retired Americans is relieved that this budget deal would protect millions of seniors from significant increases to their Medicare Part B deductibles while preventing a 20% cut to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits in 2016.

The reallocation between the Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and SSDI trust funds would prevent a massive cut in benefits for the disabled. The transfer would not impact the long-term solvency of Social Security.

We would have preferred no increase to Medicare Part B premiums; however, limiting the increases of those who are not ‘held harmless’ is a step in the right direction. In early October, Virginia Alliance President Ron Thompson of Ivor, Virginia spoke at a Capitol Hill press conference on how the increase would financially harm him. Over the last two weeks more than 30,000 Alliance members contacted their Members of Congress saying that a 52% premium hike was unfair and unwarranted. Our voices were heard.

While it appears a crisis has been averted, we have not improved retirement security for our nation’s seniors by expanding their earned Social Security benefits. We will continue to fight to make that a reality by urging Congress to implement a more accurate way to calculate cost-of-living adjustments: the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E).”

Congress Votes Tomorrow On Everything That Will Happen For The Rest Of Obama’s Presidency

Congress West Front Late last night, House GOP leadership announced a compromise bill that will (temporarily) end all the Congress-created crises by setting the federal budget and suspending the debt limit through the end of the Obama presidency.

The House is expected to vote on the bill tomorrow (Wednesday). A draft of the bill is available here.

What it doesn’t do, from the perspective of the Right Wing:

  1. It doesn’t try to force through the Keystone XL Pipeline.
  2. It doesn’t try to de-fund Planned Parenthood.
  3. It doesn’t try to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
  4. It doesn’t try to voucherize Medicare.
  5. It doesn’t try to privatize Social Security.

What it doesn’t do, from the perspective of the Working Class:

  1. It doesn’t rein in corporate giveaways to stockholders, such as dividends and buybacks. (Trillions of dollars that corporations could have used to create jobs, pay fair wages and make long-term investments.)
  2. It doesn’t end the tax preference for unearned income. (Most investment income is still taxed at about half the rate of wage income.) Ending this tax preference could end the budget deficit.
  3. It doesn’t eliminate the Social Security wage cap (which would strengthen Social Security, long-term).
  4. It doesn’t raise the minimum wage.
  5. In its current form, it doesn’t do much to reverse previous cuts to Food Stamps, veterans benefits, and other safety-net programs. It doesn’t mention the 2.1 million American workers who are long-term unemployed… or the 1-in-five American children who are living in poverty.

What it does do:

  1. It loosens the Sequester budget restrictions, both for defense and non-defense spending – and it also increases an off-budget military spending account.
  2. It completely rewrites the procedures governing IRS audits of business partnerships. (Call me cynical, but I’m guessing that part of the bill was written by somebody’s lobbyist.)
  3. It diverts some Social Security tax revenue into the Social Security Disability Trust Fund, and *privacy alert* it also creates a new information clearinghouse (presumably, to be used to detect fraud).
  4. It reduces payments to some Medicare providers and regulates the increase in Medicare supplement policy premiums.
    AND
  5. It renames the small House rotunda… in honor of the House Freedom Caucus.

It does some other things. Please take the time to read through the bill yourself – and encourage your Congressional representatives to do the same. Contact information for those representatives is available here.

————-

Having watched this impossibly deadlocked Congress — and its impossibly intransigent Right Wing

Personally, if this “grand compromise” happens, I don’t expect anything else to get through this Congress until President Obama leaves office.  (Remember, GOP extremists have been working to “submarine his presidency” since the very first day of his first term.)

Metal Trades Council endorses Shea-Porter

Carol Shea porter 2In case you missed it: Portsmouth Herald: Metal Trades Council endorses Shea-Porter

PORTSMOUTH – With the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard as a backdrop, Paul O’Connor, president of the Metal Trades Council, gave Democratic U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter an endorsement from the shipyard workers in her bid for re-election to New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District.

O’Connor recognized Shea-Porter’s efforts to keep the shipyard open and minimizing the impact of sequestration as well as working with the shipyard leadership and labor management with many issues including workplace rights.

He said only one of the two candidates running for the 1st Congressional district “supports the working men and women.”  She is a strong, hardworking, roll-your-sleeves up fighter for the middle class, for our shipyard, for the community, for New Hampshire and for our nation.

Read the full article here.

Low Income Families Are Suffering From Federal Budget Cuts (From Every Child Matters Education Fund NH)

By Mary Lou Beaver,
New Hampshire Campaign Director, 

Every Child Matters Education Fund

 

Mary Lou Beaver

MaryLou Beaver

NHLogo

Each year, to track the progress toward the goal of cutting poverty in half in 10 years, Half in Ten publishes an annual report that examines 21 different indicators of economic security and opportunity. On Tuesday, Half In Ten released their new report, Resetting the Poverty Debate: State of the States 2013.

Here are some excerpts from the report:

Poverty Rate

The percentage of people in poverty—defined as having an annual income below $23,492 for a family of four—did not change nationally from 2011 to 2012, remaining at 15 percent, or 46.5 million Americans. Similarly, the percentage of people with incomes of less than half the poverty line—sometimes referred to as deep poverty—remained at 6.6 percent in 2012. These measures do not account for the impacts of the Earned Income Tax Credit, nutrition assistance, and other noncash benefits on income.

To substantially reduce the share of Americans living below the poverty line, policymakers first need to immediately shift their focus from austerity to job creation and investment in people. The poverty rate remains high today due in large part to an excess of poorly compensated jobs. We need to turn bad jobs into good ones by increasing the minimum wage, supporting poorly compensated workers’ efforts to join unions, and ensuring that all workers have basic benefits such as paid sick leave.

Child Poverty Rate

Nationally, 21.8 percent of children ages 18 and younger were living below the poverty line in 2012. But children end up in poverty because their families are in poverty. When the incomes of the adults who reside with children—mainly parents—are not sufficient to meet the basic needs of the family, child poverty rates get worse. One considerable factor contributing to these high rates is family employment. Over the past several years, the rate of family unemployment has remained very high. While the family unemployment rate fell from 12.1 percent in 2011 to 10.1 percent in 2012, the share of families with at least one unemployed parent looking for work was still higher than the national average unemployment rate of 8.1 percent in 2012.

High School Graduation Rate

One of the national indicators that has shown improvement over the past several years is the on-time graduation rate for high school students, which measures the percentage of students that enter high school as freshmen and graduate within four years. The on-time high school graduation rate increased from 75.5 percent in the 2008-09 school year to 78.2 percent in the 2009-10 school year, its highest level since 1974.

Children who participate in state-funded prekindergarten programs are more likely to graduate from high school on time. Nationwide, total state funding for pre-K programs decreased by nearly $60 million in the 2010-11 school year. This is the second year in a row for which inflation-adjusted spending dropped, following a $30 million decrease in the 2009-10 school year. By contrast, Vermont had the best on-time graduation rate in the country and also maintains one of the best pre-K programs, increasing its enrollment by 25 percent in 2011.

Gender Wage Gap

Even though our economy has been growing slowly and steadily, women are among the groups that are still not sharing in its gains. In 2012, median annual earnings for women working full time and year round were $37,791, 76.5 percent of the median annual earnings—$49,398—of men working full time and year round.  The gender wage gap did not change significantly from 2011 to 2012, and there has been little progress in closing the gender wage gap since 2001.

Unequal pay means lower earnings for women and higher poverty rates for both married couples and female-headed households. In the 1990s, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimated that boosting women’s pay to men’s levels would cut the poverty rate in half for both single mothers and married couples and by even more for single women without children. Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act would reduce the gender wage gap. Policies such as increasing the minimum wage, expanding investments in child care, and improving pay for workers in female-dominated occupations such as care work would help narrow the gender wage gap.

Besides pay disparities, other work challenges also hold women back, such as paid sick leave.

Lack of Health Insurance Coverage

One of the biggest expenses that pushes families into poverty is out-of-pocket spending on medical expenses, usually due to a lack of health insurance. In 2012, 10.6 million people fell into poverty due to out-of-pocket medical expenses, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nationally, our recent investments in this indicator have shown improvement. The percentage of people without health insurance has gone down, falling from 15.7 percent in 2011 to 15.4 percent in 2012.  Since 2010, the number of people without health insurance has decreased by 2 million, in part due to provisions in the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, that have increased coverage among young people. As the full law goes into effect in 2014, further improvements in this indicator are expected.

In too many states, however, low-income nonelderly adults are not able to benefit from part of the ACA that was designed to help them—Medicaid expansion. They are much more likely than higher-income adults to be uninsured. They also fail to receive needed medical care and have problems paying medical bills. However, 24 states are refusing to implement the ACA’s option to expand Medicaid cover- age to most uninsured people with incomes of less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line.

Massachusetts has the lowest rate of residents earning 138 percent of the federal poverty line without health insurance. Only 7.6 percent of the state’s residents lack any kind of health care coverage due to its health insurance program. The state has also chosen to expand Medicaid.

Hunger and Food Insecurity

The food-insecurity indicator measures the share of total households that experienced difficulty providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of money or resources. In 2012, 14.5 percent of households—17.6 million households, to be exact—were food insecure. The change in food insecurity from 2011 to 2012 was not statistically significant.

Although food insecurity increased during the first year of the recession, it has essentially remained stable since then. This is likely due in large part to the effectiveness of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. Recent research found that in 2011 and 2012, SNAP contributed to reductions in food insecurity among families who obtained program benefits. Yet SNAP funding has suffered recently. In November 2013, a temporary boost to SNAP funding made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expired, cutting the average SNAP benefit for a family of three by $29. This expiration took effect in November 2013; those relying on the program now have, on average, $1.40 per person per meal.

On top of that, many lawmakers in Congress have demanded further draconian cuts—as much as $39 billion over 10 years—in a recent House proposal. Policymakers should reject proposals that would damage SNAP’s responsiveness to economic conditions by radically altering its structure, as well as moves to further cut benefits.

Affordable and Available Housing

Nationally, there were only 57 affordable and available units per 100 renter house-holds with very low incomes in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, compared to 58 units in 2010. The number of renters with “worst-case needs” continued to increase in 2011.

Left alone, sequestration could cut housing vouchers for as many as 185,000 families by the end of 2014. These cuts are already seriously impacting the states. Congress should reverse the across-the-board cuts in housing that are part of sequestration and increase investments in rental-housing assistance and development.

The bottom line is this: Low-income families in states across the country are suffering from too many years of reckless efforts to reduce the federal deficit. Although many states need to improve local policies—especially those that hinder the ability of low-income families to access federally funded programs—the state- by-state results from our indicators show that the budget choices we make at the national level have consequences. The effects of sequestration will continue into next year and for many years thereafter. “It is like a slowly growing cancer,” says Steven Warren, vice chancellor of research and graduate studies at the University of Kansas. In 2014, sequestration will only get worse. The cuts will be deeper.

Many of this year’s cuts simply have not been implemented yet. And the one-time fixes that agencies made this year to mitigate sequestration’s impacts are no longer an option moving forward.

 

Shea-Porter: No Budget, No Vacation

The least productive Congress ever should stay in Washington
until a budget is agreed to
 

WASHINGTON, DC – With only six legislative days remaining before the House of Representatives goes home for the holidays, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter added her name to the newly introduced H. Res. 424, legislation that would prevent Congress from adjourning for the remainder of the year unless it passes a budget conference report by December 13th.

“The least productive Congress ever should stay in Washington until a budget is agreed to,” Shea-Porter said. “Without fulfilling this basic function, there is no question that Congress should not go on vacation.”

The 113th Congress is on track to have the least productive year in Congressional history. But next Friday, the House of Representatives is scheduled to go home for the holidays until January 7th. Earlier this week, Speaker of the House John Boehner had this outrageous response for reporters asking about progress in the Republican-led Congress:  “We’ve done our work.”

Without agreeing to a budget, Congress risks another government shutdown and credit default as early as January 15, 2014. Without authorizing the nation’s Farm Bill, the price of milk could skyrocket to $8.00 per gallon in January.  Additionally, unemployment insurance, common sense gun legislation, and jobs bills all remain on the table but unpassed.

Earlier today, Shea-Porter supported a motion that would have forced Congress to pass a budget conference report before adjourning for the year. In early August, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives asking Congress to extend its session in order to end sequestration and pass job-creating legislation. You can watch the video here.

 

AFGE Statement on Health Care Rate Increase for Federal Employees, Retirees

AFGE Logo 2WASHINGTON – American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. today issued the following statement in response to the announcement that premiums for enrollees in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program will increase an average of 4.4% in January:

“Today’s announcement that FEHBP premiums will increase an average of 4.4% next year for enrollees is unacceptable. Federal employees have had their pay frozen for an unprecedented three consecutive years, and more than a million employees lost a week or more of their wages this year when they were furloughed under sequestration.

“We are days away from the government shutting down unless Congress passes a new fiscal year budget, which will force more than 800,000 federal employees to stay home without pay. And unless sequestration is cancelled, federal employees are facing another year of unpaid furloughs and even permanent layoffs.

“With everything else hanging over their heads, federal employees and retirees simply can’t afford this increase in their health insurance premiums. The average salary of our members is $50,000 a year, which means they’re taking home about $500 a week after taxes, retirement and health insurance. Hiking premiums by another 4.4 percent next year means our members will be bringing home even less income.”

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.

———

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.

 

 

The AFL-CIO Calls On Wall Street To Pay Their Fair Share

A statement from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

At a time when the 1% have demanded so much sacrifice from working people in the name of deficit reduction, we must ask something of big corporations. That means “revenue positive” corporate tax reform that raises significant amounts of new tax revenue.   We must start by ending all tax incentives for outsourcing jobs overseas, which would raise more than $583 billion in tax revenue over 10 years.

For many years, the AFL-CIO has called for Wall Street and multinational corporations to pay their fair share in taxes to help pay for the investments we need to make in jobs here at home. However we are concerned that several recent proposals for corporate tax reform do not raise nearly enough revenue because they squander huge sums of money on lowering tax rates for profitable Wall Street corporations.

Wall Street has not been asked to contribute a dime in the name of “shared sacrifice,” while working people have already sacrificed far too much.  The suggestion that tax reform should let Wall Street and big corporations get away with paying no more than they pay now is offensive.  The suggestion that such “revenue neutral” corporate tax reform should be coupled with cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits is an obscenity.

We are especially concerned that proposals to lower the corporate tax rate by a specific amount could lead to cutbacks on tax expenditures, such as the domestic production activities deduction, that encourage manufacturing in the United States.  Limiting such expenditures could discourage investment, production, and employment here in America even if the corporate tax rate is lowered.
Finally, we reiterate that the AFL-CIO opposes cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits, no matter what form they take and no matter who proposes them.

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