Tag Archives: Senate

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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Budget bill moves through Senate and on to Obama. Up next: the debt ceiling.

Both the House and the Senate passed the budget bill yesterday, with the Senate voting 81-19. Fifteen Republican senators, three Democrats, and one independent voted against the measure. Now the legislation moves on to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law. But the fight over the 2011 budget may have weakened John Boehner when many of his own party abandoned him when voting in the House on the measure took place yesterday afternoon. Without Democrat help, the bill may never have passed. But don’t be fooled into thinking anybody is having fuzzy feelings for the opposite party, 108 of the no votes came from House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.Now Capitol Hill turns its attention to raising the national debt limit but the king of the Republicans may be doing so with a weaker hand. Boehner’s little GOP kingdom has become disenchanted with him. The federal debt ceiling, currently just under $14.3 trillion, is projected to be breached by mid-May and the Treasury Department’s accounting tricks will only last until early July. Conservatives and tea party members are demanding that their leaders shrink the government and are howling at the suggestion of raising the debt ceiling. But they may end up having no choice. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and others have warned of dire consequences to the global financial markets if the debt limit is not extended and the government begins defaulting on its loans.

With debate over the debt limit intensifying, Republicans are discussing attaching some tough statutory language to the bill that would allow the ceiling to be increased only if Congress institutes broad spending cuts in federal agency budgets and in entitlement programs such as Medicare. Those proposals might unify House Republicans for an initial passage of the debt ceiling, but they might also fail in the Democratic controlled Senate. Such an outcome would send Boehner back to the bargaining table with Obama and Reid. This past week’s reaction to the spending bill from GOP conservatives may leave the White House assuming Boehner will not be able to deliver a majority on his own, prompting Obama’s side to not give in to as many of the speaker’s demands.

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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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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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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 still limping along.

The House on Tuesday approved a stopgap measure that would keep the federal government funded through March 18 and cut $4 billion in spending by targeting programs that President Obama has already marked for elimination.

The measure, which passed the House on a 335 to 91 vote, now goes to the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that the measure is likely to be approved in the Senate within the next 48 hours. If Congress does not pass a funding resolution by Friday, the federal government would be forced to shut down, but the apparent agreement between the two chambers seems likely to avert that possibility in the short-term.

The Senate on Wednesday approved a stopgap measure that would keep the federal government funded through March 18, sending the bill on to President Obama for his signature. The bill passed on a 91 to 9 vote, one day after it was approved by the House. Obama must sign the bill by Friday or else the federal government will be forced to shut down.

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The continued fight over health care reform.

“On a vote of 51 to 47, the Senate defeated a GOP effort to repeal President Obama’s health-care overhaul. While the outcome was expected, not a single Democrat voted to continue with repeal, underscoring the great hurdle that Republican efforts to revise the health-care law face in the Senate.” – from the Washington Post.

Of course, we all knew the Republican controlled House would get nowhere with a repeal of the health care reform. This was expected. Unfortunately, this means the GOP will resort to chipping away at the reform piece by piece. If they can’t get rid of it in one fell swoop, than they will eat away at the base until the whole thing collapses. Two federal judges have ruled the legislation as unconstitutional, saying that Congress cannot force individuals to buy health insurance. This is almost certainly headed for the Supreme Court, which could decide the law’s fate by the spring of 2012. I fully expect the 2012 presidential race to ring with cries of ‘Repeal ObamaCare’!

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The 112th Congress opens and Republicans hit the gate running.

Well, the Senate and the House came to order yesterday and the 112th Congress has begun. This time with reduced Democrat numbers in the Senate and a Republican controlled House. The Democrats now lack the numbers to overrule a filibuster by seven members in the Senate. This spurred both sides to draw up a new set of rules in hopes of creating a new bipartisanship in our government, hoping not to be trapped by the same childishness that stemmed the last two years.

Despite their so-called good intentions, the House intends to pass the health care repeal next week without committee hearings or permitting Democrats a chance to seek changes. According to new Speaker of the House John Boehner, they’ve litigated the health care issue enough over the past year. This is mostly for show, since the bill will likely die in the Senate. The Republican’s first move in the House is to show their displeasure with the health care reform and to waste everybody’s time. They have also decided to ignore estimates from the Congressional Budget Office that the health care bill as it was originally passed would cut spending by $143 billion over the next decade.

The Republicans have pledged to vote at least once a week on bills that cut spending. The first spending cut vote is set for today and involves a 5% reduction in the amount ticketed for lawmakers’ and committees’ offices and leadership staff. It’s estimated the bill could save $35 million over the next nine months. (Oh look! A New Year’s resolution! Did you know that in the first week of January 25% of people who made resolutions have already failed to stick with them? This has about as much success of working as your boss staying away from the donuts.) As of this morning, the Republicans are already saying that their pledge to cut $100 billion from the budget in this year alone won’t be kept. (That was fast.) But, naysayers have to concede that with several months of the budget year already gone -it began back in October 2010- it wouldn’t be prudent to crunch $100 billion worth of cuts into the remaining fiscal year.

It remains to be seen whether we will see the true governmental bipartisanship that we need to grow and thrive between the Republicans and the Democrats or if we’re in for another few years of kiddie games.

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Republicans pledge to make spending cuts but won’t say to which programs.

The Republicans don’t take over the majority in the House of Representatives until tomorrow but people are already talking about the budget cuts the GOP will make. Before the election the Republicans pledged to cut $100 billion from domestic spending. They haven’t specified which programs would bear the brunt of the cuts, only what would escape it: the military, domestic security, and veterans. This leaves federal programs for things like education, transportation, law enforcement, and medical research wide open for attack. The cuts would be deep, roughly 20% on average, causing many economists to argue that immediate federal spending cuts of this size would threaten the economy’s recovery and offset any stimulus from the tax cut deal the Republicans and Obama reached just weeks ago.

(I find it odd that people would think the tax cuts would do any good. We’ve had those cuts for years, since before the recession started. Nothing changed about them, they were just extended. Why do you think they would make any difference? They aren’t new. It’s just more of the same.)

House Republicans Outline Budget Cuts – NYTimes.com

John A. Boehner, incoming House speaker.

But it might not be so easy for the Republican controlled House to make those cuts since the Democrats retain the majority in the Senate and Obama still holds veto power over bills making those reductions. Many think the Republicans should be broadening their scope to include big items, like Medicare and Social Security. Unfortunately, I don’t see that going over well with the American people. My parents’ generation is nearing the time of their lives where they will begin to draw on those programs and there are a lot of Baby Boomers headed in the same direction, putting even more strain on the cache. The Republicans might meet real opposition with their spending cuts.

I don’t know how this will play out if the GOP makes a move for programs that the American people are willing to defend. There could be cuts to subsidies for farmers and for local governments, who are counting on federal money to meet their own budgets. Cuts for education could mean the loss of grants for students and 40,000 fewer teachers and school aides. Small business programs, meaning Main Street USA, are also a target I feel should worry. In the end, I see this ending in a standoff between the Republican House and the Democratic Senate. It will be interesting to see who blinks first.

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