Tag Archives: Democrats

Congress gears up for the debt discussion – no, not that one. The other one.

The people in our government are buttheads and here is the reason why: both the Republicans and the Democrats have announced their party’s negotiators for the upcoming talks over the nation’s debt limit and they are pretty much a handpicked selection of people guaranteed to NOT come to an agreement. The Republicans have picked Eric Cantor and Jon Kyl. Please note that the invitation was for four congressional Republicans but the GOP decided to waste the time of only two. The Democrats chose Max Baucus and Daniel Inouye from the Senate and James Clyburn and Chris Van Hollen from the House. Of those, only Van Hollen seems to make any sense, having taken part in the 2011 budget negotiations that ended just last week. Basically, this is going to turn into a staring match where nothing gets done. Much like the negotiations for this year’s federal budget went.

Paul Ryan, the architect of the Republican budget that protects tax breaks for the wealthy and turns Medicare into a voucher system, is not finding a lot of support for his proposal. House Republicans voted 235-4 in favor of the plan but touching entitlement programs is incredibly unpopular with the public. Ryan was booed when talking about his proposed budget plan when holding a town hall meeting in his southern Wisconsin congressional district. Only Obama’s call to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans enjoys solid support. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 72% of Americans wanted Congress to raise taxes on wealthy Americans making more than $250,000 a year.

Americans would prefer to keep Medicare just the way it is and also oppose cuts in Medicaid and the defense budget. More than half of those polled say they are against small, across-the-board tax increases combined with modest reductions in Medicare and Social Security benefits. Basically, Americans want the government to sort itself out without having themselves pay any more money. Better yet, to reduce what we are paying in taxes now. (You do realize that it doesn’t work that way, right? Basic math there, Bobo.)

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The House passes new budget bill but nobody is happy about it. As usual.

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.

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Just how much did the GOP give and how much did the Democrats take?

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.

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Obama pulls some strings to save some programs.

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?)

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Government shutdown averted! — Kind of…

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.

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The government is all set to screech to a halt tonight.

[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

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Looks like a rusty tinker toy rather than a government to me.

Raise your hand if you saw the government shutdown after Friday coming from a league away? (can almost feel the breeze from people raising their hands) Yeah, me too. For once it looks like the Democrats are sticking to their guns and digging in their heels. If there is no deal by midnight Friday, when the current spending authorization measure expires, parts of the government will close down. The IRS will stop processing paper tax returns, the Small Business Association will stop making loans and federal home loan guarantees are on hold.

Harry Reid believes that both parties are agreed on the numbers portion of the budget and that the real sticking point between the Republicans and the Democrats is the GOP’s insistence on including provisions related to abortion and environmental protection. House Speaker John Boehner doesn’t think so, saying that there is “no agreement on numbers and no agreement on underlying policies.” Republicans are, among other things, pushing to strip all funding from Planned Parenthood as well as trying to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

At the moment, the Republicans are offering another week long extension bill, which both the Democrats and Obama himself states is not an option. The Republicans are being pressured from their conservative Tea Party members to make deep cuts, to the tune of $61 billion, while the Democrats say such cuts will harm the recovering economy. They would rather pass a resolution with only $10 billion in cuts. Both sides of the government is trying to paint the other party as the bad guy and depending on who is holding the “hot potato” come midnight on Friday will end up being the villain in this story.

Poll: Americans split on shutdown blame game.

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Anti-Union legislation is pushed through in Wisconsin in a stunning move by GOP members.

Two things happened yesterday in our government. One was that the Senate voted down both the proposed budget bills, calling the Republican plan too much and the Democrat plan not enough. We knew this would happen. I don’t know why they even bothered turning on the lights. This sets the stage for new negotiations between the parties and, since temporary funding runs out next week, almost certainly another stop-gap bill to keep the federal government running while they debate the issue.

The other big event that happened in our government was that the Wisconsin Assembly was able to pass the anti-union rights legislation after discovering a way to outmaneuver the missing Democratic members. The legislation introduced by Republican Governor Scott Walker to plug the $137 million budget shortfall would strip collective bargaining rights from most public workers. To stop the vote, 14 Senate Democrats fled to Illinois three weeks ago, preventing the chamber from having enough members present to pass it. At least 20 members must be present to take up any measures that spend money but by taking out all the spending measures in the legislation the Senate was able to approve it without the missing members.

The measure forbids most government workers from collectively bargaining for wage increases beyond the rate of inflation unless approved by referendum. It also requires public workers to pay more toward their pensions and double their health insurance contribution, a combination equivalent to an 8% pay cut for the average worker. Walker’s proposal touched off a national debate over union rights for public employees and prompted tens of thousands of demonstrators to converge on Wisconsin’s capital city for weeks of protests.

Protestors take over the State Capitol after the Republican controlled Senate, without Democrats present, abruptly voted to eliminate almost all collective bargaining for most public workers in Madison, Wisconsin.

Within hours of the Senate passing the plan, a crowd of hundreds of protesters grew to about 7,000 in the Capitol, a crowd as large as any seen inside the building in three weeks of demonstrations. Walker and his Republican colleagues have shown their true colors with this move. By removing the spending measures from the bill and pushing through the portion eliminating collective bargaining rights of public employees, they have shown that this was never about the state budget but was an effort to bust unions. Labor leaders insist that they emerge energized and eager to continue fighting. They say that efforts to recall Republican Senators will continue, although Governor Walker cannot be recalled until he’s served a full year next January.

A recall election, also called a recall referendum or representative recall, is a procedure by which voters can remove an elected official from office through a direct vote, initiated when sufficient voters sign a petition.

Wisconsion union curbs head for final vote amid protests – Yahoo! News

Wis. GOP bypasses Dems, cuts collective bargaining – Yahoo! News

Governor Walker’s Coup D’Etat – Robert Reich

Labor Vows To Step Up Recall Effort Against Wisconsin GOP, Challenge Anti-Union Bill in Court – Huffington Post

Eight GOP State Senators in Wisconsin Can be Recalled Right Now; Gov. Walker Can Be Recalled in January

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The Republicans and the Democrats still can’t agree on budget.

Richard Nixon espoused what he called “the madman theory.” It’s a negotiating approach that induces the other side to believe you are capable of dangerously irrational actions and leads it to back down to avoid the wreckage your rage might let loose. That’s what the Republicans are doing right now; using the crazy reputation the Tea Party and the freshmen politicos have gained to terrorize the Democrats, who apparently have no backbone.

The GOP is holding the specter of a government shut-down over the heads of the Democrats like the sword of Damocles. After pushing through the short-term spending measure that allowed the government to continue to function until March 18th, the GOP is now holding out for even more cuts and it looks like the White House might go for another ‘compromise’. Both sides are trying to avoid looking like the evildoers here and keep the government running. However, they might be running it into the ground. Democrats have offered to cut an additional $10.5 billion but Republicans want $61 billion. Meeting in the middle will result in around $35 billion in additional cuts to so-called non-defense discretionary spending.

That will be another big hit to the middle class. Non-defense discretionary spending is 12% of the federal budget and includes most federal education programs as well as programs for the poor outside of Medicaid. A third of the targeted spending is handed over to states and locales and cutting it even more would put the squeeze on municipal government. The protests in Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio highlight just how enraged the middle working class is at being targeted by the governmental wolves.

What appears to be going to happen now is a series of short-term funding bills in which the GOP will take small chunks out of the budget until they reach their $61 billion goal. Each two, three, or four week stopgap created to keep the government going through prolonged negotiations would contain another set of cuts. The Republicans continue to push and the Democrats continue to give ground in this situation. This is not a compromise, it’s a hostile takeover.

The Senate will vote on the two versions of the spending bill tomorrow. The budget proposed by the Republicans will cut $61 billion while the Democrats’ version will cut only $6 billion. Neither bill is expected to get the 60 votes required to advance but the vote will set the stage for additional negotiations. In other words, this is all for show.

America’s grim budget outlook – Washington Post

How Boehner is playing the Democrats – Washington Post

House GOP Plans for More Short-term Funding Extensions – Huffington Post

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The government will keep on running but running to where is the question…

You know, I’ve been trying for weeks to find a good Republican blog or newsfeed since everything I’ve seen so far is bashing the GOP and is generally anti-Republican at the moment. It may seem like the Republicans are hell-bent on attacking the government with a sharp pair of scissors but the GOP is not completely happy with what is going on either. To quote an analogy from the First Read NBC News site, “It may be hard to understand why a person might jump off a cliff, unless you understand they’re being chased by a tiger.” The bulk of the Republicans are being driven by the Tea Party and those core Republicans that are being herded are just as concerned about spending cuts as everyone else. The Republican Party is like a nesting doll and the more layers you pull off the doll, the crazier it gets.

The more popular ways of generating new revenue are placing a surtax on federal income taxes for those who make more than $1 million per a year, eliminating spending on earmarks, eliminating funding for weapons systems the Defense Department says aren’t necessary, and eliminating tax credits for the oil and gas industries. Over 70% of people polled say that those are acceptable ways to reduce the federal budget deficit, with a whopping 81% supporting the tax on high incomes. Unsurprisingly, cutting funding for Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and education were less popular.

Obama signed the stop-gap measure to keep the government up and running for another two weeks yesterday. Now the White House looks eager to find the same type of compromise that was accomplished during the lame-duck session on taxes last year (that would be the continuation of the Bush tax cuts everybody is crying over right now). Vice President Biden will be the one to negotiate with the Republicans on a long-term solution for the deficit and to keep the government running. But the GOP leaders insist the Senate Democrats come up with their own plan first. At the moment we are not hearing a lot about a plan from the Democrats or how they wish to counter the $61 billion in cuts created by the House Republicans. Republicans are scheduled to meet with Biden and other officials today at 4pm ET to begin talks.

First Thoughts: Chased by a tiger

Congress: Ready to compromise?

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