Tag: sequester

Dec 18

The Rich Get Richer: Embrace the Suck

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The Senate will pass the budget bill that was approved by the House last week. It passes the hurdle of cloture with a “bipartisan” vote of 67 – 33. The bill leaves a lump of coal in the stockings of 1.5 million Americans whose unemployment benefits expire the end of December and future career servicemen and women whose cost of living increases to their pensions will be cut. But the Pentagon will get their due and so will the 1%.

Ryan-Murray Budget Deal Passes Senate Hurdle

By DSWright, FDL News Desk

The truly horrendous Ryan-Murray budget has passed the Senate clearing the way to fully pass Congress this week. The deal restores war spending to astronomical levels while cutting federal pensions and raising airline fees. In other words, cash for defense contractors and groin kicks for the middle class. [..]

Why any Democrat would vote for such an awful reactionary budget is beyond comprehension. According to Nancy Pelosi Democrats had to “embrace the suck.” Otherwise things might not suck? [..]

We truly have the best government money can buy. The naked corruption on display in dumping oceans of cash into the Pentagon patronage den while attacking worker pensions and leaving the unemployed to rot is proof positive that we live in a deranged oligarchy where money is everything and the people are nothing.

“Makes Absolutely No Sense”: David Cay Johnston on Budget Deal That Helps Billionaires, Not the Poor

A bipartisan budget deal to avert another government shutdown comes before the Senate this week. The vast majority of House members from both parties approved the two-year budget agreement last week in a 332-to-94 vote. It is being hailed as a breakthrough compromise for Democrats and Republicans. The bill eases across-the-board spending cuts, replacing them with new airline fees and cuts to federal pensions. In a concession by Democrats, it does not extend unemployment benefits for 1.3 million people, which are set to expire this month. To discuss the deal, we are joined by David Cay Johnston, an investigative reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize while at The New York Times. He is currently a columnist for Tax Analysts and Al Jazeera, as well as a contributing editor at Newsweek.



Full transcript can be read here

Once again the vast majority are Scrooged.

Dec 13

The 2 Year Budget Deal In 90 Seconds

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

A two year budget deal was reached yesterday with congressional leaders announcing the deal that would to replace $63 billion in sequester cuts, a very small part of the $180 billion in cuts that will occur over the next two years. The deal will restore defense cuts by funding from a tax on airline travel and cuts to federal pensions. The budget does not include extension of unemployment funds to the millions of workers who are about to lose their benefits the end of December. There will be no changes to Medicare or Social Security but none of the tax loop holes were closed.

As Ezra Klein puts it:

Whether this deal can be a model for future deals is an open question. The core principle of this deal is that Democrats didn’t have to touch entitlements and Republicans didn’t have to touch taxes. But a lot of the policies that made that possible got used up in this deal. It’s not clear that another deal like this would work in 2016.

DSWright at FDL News Desk notes:

The Republicans got everything they wanted. They get more cuts while none of their friends in the defense industry get hurt – actually they even got to do some damage to the federal pension system. All that while avoiding another shutdown that killed their poll numbers before the 2014 elections. Christmas came early for the GOP.

The Democratic Party, on the other hand, sold out its own base to help Republicans maintain power. Why? Who knows? The only thing that is clear is this is an awful deal for majority of Americans.

Once again, the majority of Americans get screwed by their elected representatives.  

Jul 06

More Jobs Than Expected But Don’t Get Optimistic

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The June employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the US added 195,000 jobs but the unemployment rate remained at 7.6%. This better than expected number, along with upward revisions of the April and May jobs numbers led to some speculation by Wall Street analysts to speculate that the Federal Reserve would start to back away from part of its stimulus program.

But hold your horses on the optimism. The reality is that this an anaemic recovery with flat growth and low productivity, as Dean Baker points out in his article:

First, it is important to remember the size of the hole the economy is in. We are down roughly 8.5 million jobs from our trend growth path. We also need close to 100,000 jobs a month to keep pace with the underlying growth rate of the labor market. This means that even with the relatively good growth of the last few months, we were only closing the gap at the rate of 96,000 a month. At this pace, it will take up more than seven years to fill the jobs gap.

It is easy to miss the size of the jobs gap since the current 7.6% unemployment rate doesn’t seem that high. However, the main reason that the unemployment rate has fallen from its peak of 10% in the fall of 2009 is that millions of people have dropped out of the labor force and stopped looking for jobs. These people are no longer counted as being unemployed. [..]

This gets to the type of jobs that have been created in the upturn. Over the last three months, three sectors – restaurants, retail trade, and temporary help – have accounted for more than half of the jobs created. These sectors offer the lowest-paying jobs, with few benefits and little job security. [..]

Workers take these jobs when there are no better alternatives available.

There is also the impact of sequestration that has yet to have its full impact on the economy and Congress seems content to leave in place with one side blaming the other. There is little chance that a budget or any significant legislation will get through this Congress:

Do you see the problem here? The president’s adversaries lament his lack of warmth and his remote intellectualism; his supporters see the same quality as an analytical and cool-headed virtue. This could be a cute “the president is from Mars, Republicans are from Venus” thing – if it weren’t for the fact that several important issues this summer, including the budget and food-stamp funding, hinge on whether these two crazy kids will ever figure it out. At the base of their problem is an absence of mutual respect and a lack of legislative sportsmanship.

Until the players figure this out – and there’s no sign they ever will – we’re going to be stuck in an endless loop of revisiting these unhelpful battles that drag on for years. This summer is the last chance for any legislation to get through. Starting in the fall, the campaigns for the 2014 midterm elections are going to start, and the window for serious legislative action will have closed – at which point you can kiss any progress on major bills goodbye. [..]

the sequestration cuts are not a question of “one side” winning or losing. They’re a question of the nation, the economy and the American people losing. They’re a question of poor people losing: Meals on Wheels will suffer, as will those living in federal housing.

No one, so far, is winning at all. Even more concerning, it’s not abundantly clear that anyone in Washington knows how to play the game anymore.

Voters need to start making greater demands on their congress critters and start threatening to throw them out for ones who will represent the people and not Wall Street and their own self-interests.

May 22

John T. Harvey: Austerity Leads To… Austerity!

In the real world and the reality based community, there is talk about austerity from people who understand the nuances of it and macroeconomic accounting identities. They point out the undeniable fact that there is austerity in the UK, the Eurozone, and yes, the United States. This interactive chart will show this, though I can’t embed it here. So instead, I will add a small snapshot of some of the data.

Net spending in the United States has steadily declined since it rose from 2008 to 2009 when the inadequate stimulus(only $500 billion of direct spending at about 1.5 percent of GDP) was passed. Stimulus packages don’t exist in a vacuum, and you have to count all government spending, which basically shows how exactly the numbers, including the stimulus as this does, didn’t close the output gap. And since the numbers didn’t, that is actually austerity. After all, spending went up in the UK and Eurozone from 2008 to 2009 as well, and since then, their spending has declined. Even though it is on a higher level, it is being cut at an even more alarming rate with its fate set to go below our miserable level by 2017.

I have pointed this out before. Sometimes I get frustrated, and point this out harshly, because some pride themselves on denying this established data to support whatever a politician in their party says or does. I don’t know why. Denying reality is not going to give resources to people who need them. There is a reason my last diary has been cited by the reality based Post Keynesian MMT community, in which I am truly grateful for and humbled by; it is the truth.

The real economy of jobs and wages continues to go nowhere thanks to the lack of deficit spending and an illogical debate in DC about how much austerity we need to appease the invisible bond vigilantes and confidence fairies. It is neoliberal deficit terrorist economic insanity based on lies. And on that note, it is my pleasure to republish a piece by someone in the reality based economic community whom I can now proudly say is a friend of mine, Post Keynesian MMT economist John T. Harvey. He, once again, brings clarity to these matters in a way that only he can.  

May 14

Austerity Still An Issue. Why?

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Austerity was thoroughly trounced by a couple of university grad students who discovered major omissions in the much touted study by a couple of Pete Peterson’s paid cronies. So why are we still even talking about it? Good question that no one so far has asked our fearless leader in Washington.

Up host Steve Kornacki discussed whether the elite consensus on austerity has started to shift and if there is any effect on the opinions in Washington. His guests Josh Barro, Columnist, Bloomberg View; Jared Bernsein, former economic adviser to V.P. Joe biden; Lori Montgomery, Economic Policy Reporter, The Washington Post; and Heather McGhee, Vice President, Demos; examine the lessons that can be learned from Europe’s austerity experience and what the US economy will look like if it continues on the austerity path. The panel also discussed how conservative have backed away from cuts to Social Security shifting their focus to tax reform, controlling spending through cost efficient measures and the roadblocks to getting it done.

May 03

Rant of the Week: Chris Hayes

Adapted from Rant of the Week at The Stars Hollow Gazette

Congress protects air travelers alone among sequester victims

Apr 12

Say No to Cuts to Social Security

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

President Obama formerly released his budget for 2014. As, expected it contained the cuts to Social Security and Medicare that have are an anathema to the left. As has been pointed out before on this site, these proposals for the sake a few dollars in revenue increases and a paltry $50 billion investment for infrastructure improvement. That is bad policy and even worse politics. If you don’t believe that, well here is a sample of the criticism from the right:

Americans for Tax Reform, the advocacy group that asks lawmakers to sign a formal “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” said Tuesday that chained CPI violates the pledge.

“Chained CPI as a stand-alone measure (that is, not paired with tax relief of equal or greater size) is a tax increase and a Taxpayer Protection Pledge violation,” the group said in a blog post.

Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, leader of the organization, criticized the policy via Twitter on Wednesday. “Chained CPI is a very large tax hike over time,” Norquist wrote. “Hence Democrat interest in same.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates (pdf) that chained CPI would reduce Social Security spending by $127 billion and increase tax revenue by $123 billion over 10 years.

When asked Friday if chained CPI represents a tax hike on the middle class, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “I’m not disputing that.

Can you hear the political ads attacking Democrats with this? So much for electoral victory in 2014, Obama just sold that prospect for what? Trying to make the point that Republicans are intransigent? American already know that. A few dollars of revenue from tax reforms that will be changed the first chance the Republicans get, like the debt ceiling hostage situation? We seen this scene played out how many times with Obama caving to Republican demands because some vague fear about the economy.

Predictably the left is outraged and there are threats from left wing organizations to primary any Democrat who votes for chained CPI.

A party rift on Obama budget

Warren joins lawmakers in criticizing Obama budget

A coalition of prominent Democrats, including many from New England, slammed President Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget blueprint Wednesday for its proposed changes to the Social Security payment formula and Medicare, opening a widening rift between the president and members of his own party.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said she was shocked by Obama’s proposal to recalculate the cost of living adjustment for Social Security beneficiaries by linking it to a different version of the Consumer Price Index, known as the “chained CPI.” [..]

“In short, ‘chained CPI’ is just a fancy way to say ‘cut benefits for seniors, the permanently disabled, and orphans,'” Warren fired off in an e-mail to supporters. She related the experience of her brother, David Herring, a military veteran and former small business owner who lives on monthly Social Security checks of $1,100. “Our Social Security system is critical to protecting middle-class families,” she wrote, “and we cannot allow it to be dismantled inch by inch.” [..]

Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts called “chained CPI” an abbreviation for “Cutting People’s Income, a wrong-headed change that would go back on the promise we make to our senior citizens.”

“Tea Party Republicans may have pushed the president into many of these difficult decisions, but it still does not make this budget right nor fair, especially for those Americans who need help the most,” Markey said.

MSNBC’s All In host Chris Hayes discussed the chained CPI with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jonathan Alter, Heather McGhee, and Mattie Duppler, Americans for Tax Reform.

Transcript for this video can be read here

This a direct attack by a Democratic president on our earned benefits. Time to start calling and don’t stop until this deal is dead and buried.

The White House switchboard is 202-456-1414.

The comments line is 202-456-1111.

Numbers for the Senate are here.

Numbers for the House are here.

h/t Susie Madrak at Crooks and Liars

Apr 10

What’s Being Said About Social Security Cuts

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Before we even start to talk about the Social Security cuts in President Obama’s budget in his quest for a “grand bargain” with Republicans, bit the president and House Speaker John Boehner have admitted there is no deficit crisis. As a matter of fact, the deficit has fallen faster in the last three years than it has since World War II

In fact, outside of that post-WWII era, the only time the deficit has fallen faster was when the economy relapsed in 1937, turning the Great Depression into a decade-long affair.

If U.S. history offers any guide, we are already testing the speed limits of a fiscal consolidation that doesn’t risk backfiring. That’s why the best way to address the fiscal cliff likely is to postpone it. [..]

While long-term deficit reduction is important and deficits remain very large by historical standards, the reality is that the government already has its foot on the brakes.

In this sense, the “fiscal cliff” metaphor is especially poor. The government doesn’t need to apply the brakes with more force to avoid disaster. Rather the “cliff” is an artificial one that has sprung up because the two parties are able to agree on so little.

That’s right, the “fiscal cliff”, ‘the deficit” crisis are MYTHS.

Now here is what digby said:

Greg Sargent has frequently made the case that liberals are going to have to choose between the sequester cuts and the Grand Bargain and therefore will need to make the affirmative case for why they are choosing the sequester. [..]

And Greg is probably right that if the Republicans are smart enough to take yes for an answer, the liberals in the House will face the wrath of their Party apparatus and the president (and the liberal establishment) if they end up voting against a Grand Bargain. [..]

This, on the other hand, is a choice between two negatives.  Essentially, as before, the White House and the Democratic centrists are holding hostages but this time they’re basically telling the progressives that a hostage is going to get shot no matter what: Head Start and food inspections today or the elderly, the sick and the veterans tomorrow and they have to choose which one.  Why should progressives bear that responsibility? They didn’t get us into this mess.

I say they should just say no. Republicans do it all the time and everybody just throws up their hands and says, “well, I guess we’d better figure out something else.” They should hold fast and say “the sequester sucks and so does the Grand Bargain and we don’t support either one.” Most of the progressives didn’t vote for the sequester in the first place and bear no responsibility for it.  (And even those who did have no obligation to defend the monster that everyone assured them had no chance of ever becoming law.) This is a failure of the leadership of both parties and progressives are not required to betray their most fundamental values and defend any of these ridiculous cuts to anyone.

Just say no.  The “sequester vs Grand Bargain” is a phony construct made by man, not God, and there’s no reason on earth why any progressive should be forced to own either one. Find another way.

Now matter how you view the cut to Social Security by linking it to the Chained CPI, it is bad policy and even worse politics that will be forever linked to A democratic president, Barack Obama. He owns it. It’s too late to put that back in the can, even if the Republicans reject it out of hand. But worse than that, every Democrat now owns it, too.

Apr 06

Obama Budget: From Bad to Worse

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Pres. Barack Obama has released his proposed budget that include cuts Medicare and linking Social Security payments to Chained CPI in hopes (there is that ugly word again) of gaining “bipartisan” (another bad word) from Congressional Republicans. Never mind that the fact that the majority of voters do not want cuts to the top three social safety programs, the president is willing to sacrifice the disable, veterans and the elderly for a few tax changes that even if passed, would most likely be reversed in the next six months. This is not “compromise,” it is a sell out of the majority of Americans.

Huffington Post‘s Sam Stein has the breakdown of the proposal that will be releases in all its full gory details next Wednesday:

   

  • The budget would reduce the deficit by $1.8 trillion over ten years — $600 billion of this reduction would come from revenue raisers, and $1.2 trillion would come from spending reductions and entitlement reforms;
  • It would change the benefit structure of Social Security (chained-CPI);
  • It would means test additional programs in Medicare;
  • All told, it would include $400 billion in health care savings (or cuts);
  • It would cut $200 billion from other areas, identified by The New York Times as “farm subsidies, federal employee retirement programs, the Postal Services and the unemployment compensation system;”
  • It would pay for expanded access to pre-K (an Obama priority) by increasing the tobacco tax;
  • It would set limits on tax-preferred retirement accounts for the wealthy, prohibiting individuals from putting more than $3 million in IRAs and other tax-preferred retirement accounts;
  • And it would stop people from collecting full disability benefits and unemployment benefits that cover the same period of time.

Dean Baker shows that these cuts over time are worse for seniors than for the rich:

By comparison, Social Security is about 70 percent of the income of a typical retiree. Since President Obama’s proposal would lead to a 3 percent cut in Social Security benefits, it would reduce the income of the typical retiree by more than 2.0 percent, more than three times the size of the hit from the tax increase to the wealthy.

Chained CPI impact on Income photo btp-chained-cpi-obama_zpsdeb1873b.jpg

The congressional Democratic apologists insist that “certain lines won’t be crossed” which translates that if Republicans realize they can get the cuts to “entitlements’ that they want by temporarily sacrificing the tax and revenue increases this is a done deal.

The president is willing to agree to the entitlement cuts only in exchange for tax hikes in other areas.

“The president has made clear that he is willing to compromise and do tough things to reduce the deficit, but only in the context of a package like this one that has balance and includes revenues from the wealthiest Americans and that is designed to promote economic growth,” the administration official said. “That means that the things like CPI that Republican Leaders have pushed hard for will only be accepted if Congressional Republicans are willing to do more on revenues.”

This is political suicide for Democrats up for election. The Republicans will forever blame Democrats for destroying these programs.

As Paul Krugman points out, this makes no sense other than just Pres. Obama’s need to seek approval of the “Serious People:”

So what’s this about? The answer, I fear, is that Obama is still trying to win over the Serious People, by showing that he’s willing to do what they consider Serious – which just about always means sticking it to the poor and the middle class. The idea is that they will finally drop the false equivalence, and admit that he’s reasonable while the GOP is mean-spirited and crazy.

But it won’t happen.

No, that won’t happen because underneath it all this is what Obama has wanted all along and has continuously said so since 2006. It’s not the GOP that is “mean-spirited and crazy” it’s Obama.

Mar 08

Changing The Name But Not The Game: Up Dated x 2

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Or as Shakespeare’s Juliet said, “what’s in a name? that which we call a rose; By any other name would smell as sweet.” Not quite.

In this case calling chained CPI, “superlative CPI to make it more palatable to the voters and politicians who oppose it as a cut to future Social Security benefit, does not make it any less noxious or toxic:

 photo 3c0e1f56-81f0-4e55-a9cb-8923c9d8f50a_zps88f0a4e7.jpg

Click image to view it in full size

Spending savings from superlative CPI with protections for vulnerable     $130 B

As Pres. Obama’s idol, Pres. Lincoln said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”

No, Barack, we will not be fooled by you.

Up Date: 3/3/13 23:18 AM EST: Post and learn. It seems that there is a “superlative CPI”, from letgetitdone in a comment at Corrente:

Hi TMC, There is a “superlativeCPI ,” but it’s not “the chained CPI” which is really “the Catfood CPI.” An actual superlative CPI, would cost adjust for the higher proportion of seniors’ household budget they must spend on rapidly increasing health care costs. It would also adjust for living area. so that seniors who live in high cost areas, can remain there if they choose, rather than moving to lower cost areas where their meagre SS pensions don’t go very far. In the real world, living costs in New York City are 2 1/2 times more than living costs in say, rural Kansas or the UP of Michigan. SS payments should be adjusted for these important regional differences.

Up Date: 3/6/13 12:39 AM EST A cut is a cut. I want to thank Hugh at Corrente for this explanation.

Then there is the Chained CPI which is a modification of the CPI-U. It is being pushed by the anti-old, austerity-minded as a replacement for the particular version of the CPI-W I just described above which already tends to understate inflationary effects on Social Security recipients. And there is the annoying Administration reference to it as the superlative CPI. Again context is important. The CPI survey collects information on prices. These are first averaged individually by geographic area. This is called “lower-level aggregation”. The example which they use is the price of one item (apples) in one locality (Chicago). The BLS then does what it calls “higher-level aggregation” (note the use of the comparative): the price of apples regionally and nationally, the price of food nationally, the price of all items nationally, etc. The Chained CPI involves another level of analysis and what must follow the comparative but the superlative? (..)

http://www.bls.gov/cpi/cpisupq…

The example used is that the CPI-U and the CPI-W have prices for pork and beef. What the Chained CPI seeks to measure is, in the event of a price increase in pork, the effect of consumers switching to beef. The BLS example is, of course, innocuous. The one some of us are more concerned about is seniors being forced to choose between beef and cat food. Substitution basically reduces the effects of inflation. Calculating a CPI based on it will inherently be lower then others (CPI-U and CPI-W) which do not. What it ignores, some would say deliberately, is quality of life. (..)

http://www.bls.gov/cpi/cpieart…

What is important to understand is that the various schemes to cut the size of the Social Security COLA, including the one currently in place are cumulative. You have no doubt heard of the miracle of compound interest. Well, what these schemes amount to is negative compound interest being charged against our seniors. What is always left off the table is the question of what constitutes a living retirement, perhaps because it would lead to the related discussion of what constitutes a living wage. Instead we get a numbers game, divorced from the very social issue the number is supposed to address.

Mar 06

Stuck in the Wrong Conversation

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Even though I’m an “only child,” I had a large extended family that we visited quite often, especially my maternal great grandmother and her two maiden sisters. They would gather in the dining room every afternoon for tea and exchange the “news of the day.” Since they were all profoundly hard of hearing, the disconnected conversations were quite amusing and memorable, as you can imagine, even for a five year old.

The conversation about sequester and the manufactured debt/deficit crisis reminded me of the three elderly ladies sitting around that table, talking to each other but not hearing a word the others are saying. The president, congressional leaders and the press are all talking but not hearing what they need to hear and ignoring what the American people want, jobs.

In the middle of the implementation of austere sequestration cuts, we’ve had the inane distraction of the Washington Post‘s columnist Bob Woodward’s “poutrage” which is just another example, as the Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent in the Plum Line puts it, of being stuck in the wrong conversation:

The Woodward flap is superficially an argument about the meaning of Gene Sperling’s email, but as Jonathan Cohn details this morning, this is just a distraction from the broader, far more consequential argument over who is to blame for the creation of sequestration. The answer, of course, is that both sides are to blame for creating it – though one side is far more to blame for the failure to avert it – thanks to the deficit mania that gripped Washington in 2011, at precisely the time we should have been focused on unemployment and economic growth.

Meanwhile, the fact that sequestration is set to hit is a concrete reminder that we’re still stuck with the consequences of that misguided 2011 mindset. Indeed, the continuing argument over how to avert sequestration – whether to replace it with a mix of spending cuts and new revenues, or with just spending cuts – is itself a sign of the continuing power of elite consensus deficit-obsession. After all, the battle is still being fought on deficit/austerity turf, at a time of near-zero growth and mass unemployment, rather than over what government should be doing to boost the economy and alleviate widespread economic suffering. As Atrios has put it, we’re not debating whether to implement more austerity; we’re debating over how much austerity to implement.

Nobel Prize winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman told Ed Shultz, host of MSNBC’s “Ed Show, “that sequestration was “designed to be stupid” and “this is exactly what the doctor did not order”.

While the spending cuts were conceived as a fix for the federal deficit, Krugman said, this was not the time to implement that kind of measure. Instead, he said, the government should be taking advantage of low interest rates and a high number of unemployed construction workers to invest in infrastructure and education.

“What kind of spending would it take to keep us on the track that we’re on right now?” Schultz asked, noting a continued pattern of private sector job growth despite Republican resistance to a new jobs bill since the stimulus package of 2009.

“If we would just stop cutting, the growth would probably keep going,” Krugman answered. “If spending had grown as fast in this recovery as it has in past recoveries, we’d be spending something like $200 billion a year – state, local and federal – more, maybe $300 billion a year more. Maybe $300 billion a year more. We’d have about a million and a half more public sector workers than we do right now, because we’ve been laying them off at [an] unprecedented pace. So, I think $300 billion a year of additional spending would be appropriate and would mean, if we did it, that we would be pretty close to full employment at this point.”

Talking Points Memo‘s Brian Beutler says that the president has done “excellent job” of “of flipping the politics of taxation to make the GOP’s once bulletproof position a vulnerability,” but the president is still not saying what the public needs to hear about jobs and the social safety net.

Mar 06

Congressional Game of Chicken: Government Shut Down

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Sequestration wasn’t going to happen according to Pres. Barack Obama, but it did. Mostly, because he was naive enough to think that the Republicans would cave because he dangled cuts to Social Security under there noses. Well, that didn’t work out so well. The Tea Party hard liners were adamant about no new taxes and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), eager to hold onto his gavel, stood his ground.

We now move to the next manufactured budget crisis on the agenda: the continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government lights on after March 27. If you think that is going to be smooth sailing then you aren’t paying attention. The fight over sequestration could very well lead to a government shutdown:

An aide to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said GOP leaders haven’t yet settled on an approach to funding the government. And House Republicans are divided enough that it’s unclear whether they could pass a stripped-down appropriations measure to begin with. Many Republicans would like to use the appropriations process to mitigate sequestration’s defense cuts, or eliminate them by cutting more deeply into domestic spending – a non-starter for Democrats. [..]

“We have had a law that’s in effect; it’s called sequestration,” (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said. “Those cuts will go forward. They’re all cuts. I think we need some revenue to take the pressure off everybody. The American people agree with me. And until there’s some agreement on revenue, I believe we should just go ahead with the sequester.”

In other words, Democrats won’t allow Republicans to use a continuing resolution to enshrine sequestration’s lower overall spending requirement by apportioning the cuts in a less indiscriminate way.

Pres. Obama thinks a government shut down can be avoided believing that the Republicans will do the “right thing” and agree to a CR that “adhere to the spending levels they agreed to during the debt limit fight in 2011“:

If House Republicans can’t pass a government funding bill that sets overall spending at levels agreed to in the Budget Control Act – funding that would automatically be reduced because of sequestration – then the government will shutdown and the pressure Republicans feel to cut a deal that both averts sequestration and keeps the government running will intensify. [..]

Thus, if Republicans try to rejigger the sequestration cuts such that they make the lower overall spending levels permanent, but rescind its indiscriminate cutting mechanism and thus remove the pressure on Congress to pass a balanced alternative, they’ll set off a government shutdown fight.

But if Republicans can pass a government funding bill that adheres to spending levels agreed to and set in 2011, then the government will stay open and the fight over sequestration will continue indefinitely.

However the fight over ongoing funding of the government shakes out, Obama said he hopes public pressure convinces Republicans to relent on revenues so that he and Congress can replace sequestration with an alternative deficit reduction plan.

First, the Republicans don’t care about public pressure Second, if Pres. Obama isn’t aware of that then he hasn’t been paying attention and his prediction that the government won’t shut down is as premature as the one about sequestration not happening.

“We agreed to a certain amount of money that was going to be spent each year, and certain funding levels for our military, our education system, and so forth,” Obama said. “If we stick to that deal, then I will be supportive of us sticking to that deal.”

But the implementation of sequestration, particularly its indiscriminate cuts to defense programs, calls into question whether House Republicans will be able to honor the government funding deal without relying on a significant number of Democratic votes. Republicans want to restore some funding to defense programs to mitigate sequestration’s impact on GOP priorities. And that could leave Boehner to choose between keeping his conference united – and thus passing a continuing resolution that the Senate and White House reject – or ignoring internal GOP politics and teaming up with Democrats to keep the government open.

The Republicans in the House have other ideas and have already started planning their end run around the cuts in sequestration they didn’t like by eliminating them in the CR. According to The Hill, they’ve already introduced a funding bill that will “cushion the Pentagon and other agencies from the blow of $85 billion in sequester spending cuts

It would shift about $10.4 billion into the Pentagon’s operations and maintenance account by cutting other defense accounts, including a $3.6 billion reduction in personnel funds, $2.5 billion less in research and development, and $4.2 billion less in equipment procurement. [..]

In total, the bill includes $518 billion for defense, $2 billion more than President Obama requested this year but the same as in 2012. It assumes the 13 percent cut to non-exempt budget accounts called for by sequestration will occur.

The Republicans are trying to undo the cuts they don’t like while preserving the cuts that the Democrats don’t like and using the CR as an end run around the law.

The Democrats are still reviewing the proposal and have said that they would insist on the same “cushion” non-defense appropriations. There are two scenarios for how this “drama” will play out:

A fight ensues between the House and Senate over the cushions for the Republican’s pet cuts and the Democratic opposition without similar concessions leading to a government shutdown;

Harry Reid gets his orders from the White House, fearing the repercussions of a government shut down, and he puts the House bill up for a vote and it passes with minimum Democratic support.

I’m betting on the latter because Barack already said so.

Load more