What is going on in our government? The House passed the budget bill that had been created last Friday but House Speaker John Boehner had to turn to Democratic support to get it done. The vote was 260 to 167 (it takes 217 ‘yes’ votes to pass a bill) but 59 Republicans broke with their party to vote against the measure. In turn, 81 Democrats voted for the deal. The budget deal, which makes $38 billion in federal spending cuts, has been criticized by some conservative Republicans as being inadequate in addressing the government’s ballooning debt. Of the 59 GOP defections, 27 were freshmen members, most that had been elected with Tea Party backing. The Senate is poised to vote later today and Obama will certainly sign it into law.
The 2011 spending measure produces its $38 billion in cuts to domestic accounts by including almost $18 billion changes to benefit programs, like children’s health care, highway funding and a fund for crime victims. “This bill is nothing more than a Tea Party checklist targeting programs that help the most vulnerable,” said liberal Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., ticking off cuts to food aid for the poor, grants to local police departments and help for children of inmates. “It’s shameful, a moral disgrace.” Obama, however, was able to ease cuts to favored programs like medical research, family planning programs and education, while largely ridding the bill of conservative policy initiatives to block last year’s health care law and new environmental regulations.
Later today, Republicans dominating the House will launch debate on a 10-year blueprint that promises to cut the long-term budget plan Obama laid out in February by more than $6 trillion. The GOP measure, a non-binding blueprint that sets a theoretical framework for future legislation, would also sharply cut Medicaid and transform it into a block grant program runs by the states. It doesn’t touch Social Security, however, or immediately cut Medicare.
Family photos that were covered in mud from the tsunami are cleaned and dried at a volunteer center in Ofunato, Iwate prefecture in Japan. Toru Hanai/Reuters
Filed under nature, pictures
Brazil smashed Chile’s record by completing the world’s largest Lego tower. The tower was erected at a Sao Paulo shopping center and reaches the height of 102 feet and 3 inches. This breaks the previous record set in Santiago, Chile by over 9 inches. The tower is composed of 500,000 individual blocks, the last of which Brazilian soccer great Cafu snapped into place Saturday.
Filed under fun, weird news
President Obama unveiled a framework Wednesday to reduce the deficit over the next 12 years by $4 trillion — a goal that falls short of targets set by his deficit commission and House Republicans — and called for a new congressional commission to help develop a plan to get there. This plan comes just after Capitol Hill came to a hard fought agreement over this year’s budget, which is already half over I might add. Of course, any plan Obama puts into action will be kicked to the curb with the next presidency. In fact, undoing what Obama has spent the last three years doing might be a campaign promise from any presidential hopeful. After all, Obama himself was elected with the promise of change and any other candidate can use the same song and dance.
In his most ambitious effort to claim the mantle of deficit cutter, Obama proposed sharp new cuts to domestic and military spending, and an overhaul of the tax code that would raise fresh revenue. But he steered clear of fundamental changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — the primary drivers of future spending. The proposal includes a mixture of tax hikes, drastic spending cuts, reductions in the Pentagon’s budget, and smaller entitlement reforms. It would seek to achieve a final balance of three dollars in spending reductions for every dollar generated in additional tax revenue.
“Now that our economic recovery is gaining strength, Democrats and Republicans must come together and restore the fiscal responsibility that served us so well in the 1990s,” the president said in a speech at George Washington University. “We have to live within our means, reduce our deficit, and get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt. And we have to do it in a way that protects the recovery, and protects the investments we need to grow, create jobs and win the future.”
Oh, great. Were you paying attention in the 1990’s, Mr. President? That decade of “fiscal responsibility” is what got us in the mess we are in today. We lived on credit and thought plastic money meant that we would never run out of cash. Then the world blinked and it all fell to shit. I hope Obama can realize that a return to the old ways is not an option and never was. He’s saying two different things in this quote. In no way was the 1990’s characterized by living within our means and many people over extended themselves. When the housing bubble burst, people found that the one object that had pour their resources into, their house, was practically devalued.
We do need to begin to live within our means but the rest of the United States and the world have to stabilize their economies as well. As it is we can barely afford the products we need to continue basic life, like gas. The rest of world is charging full steam ahead while we flounder behind.
Still, Obama and his Democratic allies accepted $600 million in cuts to a community health centers program, $414 million in cuts to grants for state and local police departments, and a $1.6 billion reduction in the Environmental Protection Agency budget, almost $1 billion of which would come from grants for clean water and other projects by local governments and Indian tribes. The National Institutes of Health, which funds critical medical research, would absorb a $260 million cut, less than 1 percent of its budget, instead of the $1.6 billion cut sought by House Republicans. Family planning programs would bear a 5 percent cut rather than being completely eliminated. Homeland security programs would see their first ever cut, although mostly to first responder grants given to state and local governments, and the IRS budget would be frozen.
About $10 billion of the cuts comes from targeting appropriations accounts previously used by lawmakers for so-called earmarks, those pet projects like highways, water projects, community development grants and new equipment for police and fire departments. Republicans had already engineered a ban on earmarks when taking back the House this year. Republicans also claimed $5 billion in savings by capping payments from a fund awarding compensation to crime victims. According to an arcane bookkeeping rule, this allows the government to claim the entire contents of the fund as budget savings. Renewable energy programs are cut $407 million, almost 20% of their budget, and The Army Corps of Engineers, which funds flood control and inland waterway projects, will suffer a $578 million cut, about 10% of its budget.
Conservative Republicans and Tea Party people are already expressing their displeasure with the budget plan, saying that the almost $38 billion in cuts barely make a dent in the country’s budget woes. They are also upset that policy “riders” added by the Republicans, like those on abortion, were dropped during negotiation. These little add-ons included attempts to block the EPA’s ability to issue global warming rules, moves to stop the implementation of Obama’s healthcare overhauls, new rules to govern the Internet, and an attempt to chop an initiative aimed at catching people running guns to Mexican drug lords off at the knees.
It now seems that due to some tricky maneuvering, Obama may have been able to save several of his favorite programs from biting the dust in the new budget cuts. There has been grumbling that Obama hasn’t been doing enough in regards to the budget war and has been seen not really taking that much of an active part in the negotiations. Although, I don’t think that people understand that much of the work is being done by aids. Boehner and Reid may be the images we’re seeing on the TV but it is their lieutenants that are really swimming around under the surface.
By using some accounting hocus-pocus and left over money from previous years, Obama was able to protect Pell grants for poor college students, health research, and “Race to the Top” aid for public schools. Big holes in foreign aid and Environmental Protection Agency accounts were generally patched and the Republicans also gave up controversial cuts to the Agriculture Department’s food inspection program. These maneuvers allowed Obama to reverse many of the cuts passed by House Republicans in February when they slashed this year’s budget by more than $60 billion. (Remember that? The GOP has been using a weed-whacker for months!) This saved favorites like the Head Start early learning program and maintained the maximum Pell grant of $5,550 and funding for the “Race to the Top” initiative that provides grants to better preforming schools.
Many of the cuts agreed to on Friday and that will be voted on on Thursday are one-time savings and the shifting of money from one place to another that is being scored as a “cut”. (Yes, it’s a game. Whoever can use the word “cut” the most, wins, even if the money is just going somewhere else.) One-time cuts include a $350 million program enacted in 2009 for dairy farmers then suffering from low milk prices and $650 million from simply not repeating a one-time infusion into highway programs passed the same year. Actual cuts are far tamer and include cuts to earmarks, unspent census money, leftover federal construction funding, and $2.5 billion from the most recent renewal of highway programs and $3.5 billion from unused spending authority from a program providing health care to children of lower-income family. (So, what you are saying is that very few cuts were actually made and that somewhere, somehow you are just finding extra money? Did the Easter Bunny leave it for you to find on the White House lawn?)
Another aftershock has rattled Japan on the one-month anniversary of a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake that spawned a deadly tsunami on March 11th. Like the aftershock last week, this one is also a magnitude 7.0 quake and resulted in a tsunami warning for 3 foot waves. Officials are hoping that like last week’s aftershock, no new tsunami will be produced. Monday’s (it is now Tuesday in Japan) aftershock did not endanger operations at the tsunami-flooded Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, where power was cut but quickly restored. The epicenter was just inland and about 100 miles north of Tokyo.
This aftershock came only hours after Japanese citizens bowed their heads in ceremonies to mark a month since the original earthquake and tsunami killed up to 25,000 people and set off radiation leaks at the nuclear plant by knocking out its cooling system. The March 11th earthquake and tsunami flattened communities along hundreds of miles (kilometers) of coastline, causing what the government estimates could be as much as $310 billion in damage. About 250,000 are without electricity, although some of them because of the latest two quakes Monday and last Thursday.
(A what point can you stop calling them “aftershocks” and start admitting that they are a series of strong and serious earthquakes in their own right?)
So, the shutdown of the government was averted just in the nick of time. The Cherry Blossom Festival went on in DC over the weekend despite fears that the parades would be canceled and, except for a car pulling a balloon that burst into flames and had to be towed away, everything went off grandly. Our dear Federal rats (and I call them rats because they acted just like rats would when they realize the ship they are on is sinking – stupidly and desperately) were able to seal a deal just an hour before midnight. Well, sort of. What actually happened was that Congress approved a short-term spending measure to keep the government from shutting down until next week. The final agreement will not in fact be voted upon until Thursday. (Just enough time for someone to change their minds.)
The proposed measure would cut $37.8 billion from the federal budget through the end of September, a little more than half of the $61 billion the Republicans were originally playing for. The Democrats wanted to cut billions less but agreed to the larger figure when the GOP agreed to drop demands to take federal funds away from the group Planned Parenthood. The cuts, if passed, would add up to the largest budget reduction for federal agencies in U.S. history. But it’s clear that the Republicans have the power in this situation. They have managed to upset what is still a predominantly Democratic held government. Remember, the Democrats still hold the majority in the Senate.
Some Tea Party conservatives have expressed their displeasure with the smaller figure and said GOP leaders should have held out for the $61 billion worth of cuts. The Republicans now have set their sights on the 2012 budget and, from the looks of it, are planning to propose even more cuts. (They’ll eventually just slash themselves out of existence. Won’t that be nice!) This is the first test of their strength since taking over the House and it looks like they may have come out on the top of the pile.
The list of services the potential government shutdown will affect keeps growing and citizens of the United States are none too happy about it. Along with many offices, national parks would be closed, leaving some 800,000 daily visitors high and dry. About $32 million a day in national parks revenue would stop during the shutdown. Places such as Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona would be closed. The Smithsonian National Museums in Washington would lock their doors and the National Cherry Blossom Festival parades, which draw roughly 1 million visitors, would be canceled. Park service employees, about 17,000, would be furloughed.
The threat of lost revenue from tourists is staggering, worrying those participating in the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War and the reenactment in Charleston, South Carolina. The reenactment of the battle will happen Tuesday regardless of the shutdown but the hundreds of re-enactors in blue or gray uniforms will be unable to camp at the historic Fort Sumter as usual. If the shutdown does happen, trash service in the DC area will stop as well. This prompted a Facebook event by angry residents pledging to take their trash to House Speaker John Boehner’s house. The organizers of the event, Jonah Goodman, who is listed in the Democratic National Committee network, and Nolan Treadway, the political and logistics director for the liberal group Netroots Nation, plan to continue the event even if a shutdown doesn’t occur.
10 things that could ruin your day if the government shuts down – CNN
Facebook event: Let’s dump trash at Boehner’s pad – Politicalticker
Shutdown would take away $32 million a day from national parks – CNN
[in a sing-song voice] We’re all going to hell in a hand basket! Oh, yes we are! La, la la. [dodges rotten vegetables] Ack! Alright! I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that nothing got done in the government last night despite Obama, Boehner, and Reid all patting our heads gently and assuring us that everything would be alright. [pat pat pat Thwack!] House Speaker John Boehner is expected to meet with other House GOP leaders at noon for continued talks. If an agreement can’t be made, either a long term budget or at least another stop-gap like the ones we’ve been operating under for about a damn month and a half, the proverbial switch gets flipped at midnight tonight and all the lights go out in Washington. [I hope you’re stocked up on candles.]
House Speaker John Boehner (left) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (right).
At least 800,000 federal workers are dreading getting an e-mail or phone call today telling them they are “nonessential” and that the government can get along just fine without them. If a shutdown does happen, only “essential” personnel will remain active, which includes about 1.2 million people on the federal payroll whose jobs are viewed as more vital to public safety, health, and welfare. To rub salt in the wound, it’s unlikely that those invited to go home will be paid for their forced vacations. After the mid-1900’s shutdowns, Congress reimbursed employees who worked and those who didn’t. But union leaders and members of Congress are warning that the national mood to repay workers who stay home would be less sympathetic today.
It’s hard to tell which services would be deemed essential and which would not. For example, the presses that print the Federal Register and other publications of Congress and the White House would keep going. But passports, also printed by the Government Printing Office, would stop. The Government Accountability Office’s 3,200 employees have been told that beyond the comptroller general, general counsel and a handful of security guards, the auditing arm of Congress would be nonessential. So would employees at the Census Bureau. The Capitol employs 2,600 workers to maintain its buildings, trim its trees and operate its mini-subways. More than 75 percent of them would be told not to report during a shutdown, according to the Architect of the Capitol, the agency that manages buildings and grounds. Only a limited staff, such as a reduced number of food service workers, would remain working to support the idiots upstairs.
How to shut down the federal government – The Washington Post
Government shutdown looks different to workers who toil in Capitol’s basement – The Washington Post
Government workers face the shutdown prospect of being deemed ‘nonessential’ – The Washington Post