Tag Archives: federal budget

March Madness and Budget Proposals

Well, as Dutch Reagan might say, here we go again. The Republicans in the House are getting ready to unveil a new budget proposal, one that apparently will call for major changes in personal and corporate tax rates and stiff spending cuts.

My bracket selections have a better shot of coming out on top in the March Madness pool. And without putting too fine a point on it, I have no chance. Zero. Zilch.

So I wonder why in an election year the GOP wants to take the lead in heading down this road to nowhere? Hey, the Democrats in DC haven’t passed a budget in three some years. So what’s the rush? And given that the GOP is going to get its collective lunch eaten in November, it seems strange that they would invite all the Dems and other miscreants to what will be an all-you-can-eat buffett over a budget — when most don’t want anything to change if it involves them.

Well, I heard the architect of the budget plan, Paul Ryan, say on Morning Joe that it was the obligation and responsibility of lawmakers to step up to the plate on this. Well, yeah, you would think that might be the case. But politics raises its ugly head as well.

The budget proposal aims to define where the Republicans stand in a presidential election year in contrast to the guy who is currently sitting in the Oval Office. Good strategy.

Probably not.

Here’s from WaPo, “Paul Ryan’s budget is bad politics. Just ask Republicans“:

To much fanfare, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan will unveil his 2012 budget plan in Washington today.

The debut of the House Budget Committee chairman’s vision for what conservative governance could and should look like might win him kudos from the conservative policy class, but it elicits only groans from GOP political professionals.

“As a campaign issue, the budget is a significant challenge for GOP candidates,” said Bob Honold, a GOP strategist and partner at Revolution Agency. “As a campaign strategy, it is so much more difficult for Republicans to communicate their responsible solutions than it is for Democrats to spook seniors with rhetoric.”

Another senior GOP strategist was far more blunt. “Didn’t they learn their lesson?” the source asked. “House Republicans are still under the mistaken impression they have to lead. It’s a presidential election year; they’re along for the ride.”

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) sought to paint the Ryan budget in the best possible political light during a briefing with reporters on Monday.

“I believe that we will get credit for effectively, first of all, having a budget, which the Democrats failed to do,” said Sessions. “I think the public will give us credit for having answers, and I think they’ll give us credit for being credible about the plight that we’re in.”

Maybe. But, the concern within Republican campaign ranks is that Ryan’s budget plays out much like it did when he put out his “Path to Prosperity” last year.

In that budget document, Ryan called for Medicare to be transformed into a voucher program — a proposal that Democrats immediately seized on and used to great effect in a surprising special election victory in upstate New York.

For their part, Republican presidential candidates did everything they could to pretend that the Ryan budget didn’t exist — expressing general praise for the idea of a conservative alternative to the Obama budget but avoiding any support for specific proposals. (The one exception was former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who offered his unequivocal support for the Ryan plan. And we saw how far that carried him.)

The debate over the politics of Ryan’s latest budget plan speak to a broader divide within the Republican Party.

Ryan as well as his fellow members of the House Republican leadership believe that, as the majority party (in the House, at least), it is incumbent upon them to produce a blueprint for how they would govern the country.

The other, more pragmatic (or cynical, depending on where you stand) wing of the party — the vast majority of political professionals are in this group — believes that there is no expectation on the part of the American people that Republicans provide any sweeping vision of what they would do if they are in power. By offering one, all Ryan is doing is giving Democrats something to shoot at, politically speaking. And that takes away from GOP attempts to keep the 2012 election spotlight shining brightly on President Obama.

What both sides in this Republican argument can agree on is that Democrats are likely to go at the new Ryan plan hard, and that if the party handles it as poorly as it did last year, it could be in serious trouble.

“The verdict depends on if Republicans can quickly define this plan among seniors before the Democrats define it for them,” said Ron Bonjean, a longtime Senate aide and now a Republican strategist. “Republicans had a turbulent practice run last year, so they should be well-prepared for the onslaught of negative attacks the other side will likely unleash.”

Well, good luck with all that. And I’ll admit it. I’m getting ready to enroll for Medicare. So the last thing I need or want is the Republicans mucking around with this program. Hey. I’m already growing my hair long so when I go before one of the Death Panels I’ll be viewed as Comrade Rob rather than Mr. Jewell.  For us pensioners on fixed incomes, a little Socialism might go a long way. Just kiddin’. [Or not]

Better the GOP lawmakers fret over the sweet 16 — or is it Kentucky and the Round of 15?

 

 

SI’s Swimsuit Issue Trumps Federal Budget

Well, I guess timing is everything. Prez O unveiled his fiscal 2013 federal budget proposal yesterday — at the same time that Kate Upton was unveiled as the cover girl for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

OK. As a pajama-clad citizen journalist I know I should be analyzing the federal budget in all its policy wonk and political glory. But why? It’s been more than a 1000 days since Congress last passed a budget. And in an election year, what the Prez proposed yesterday has already been declared DOA on Capitol Hill.

Here’s from CNN, “Analysis: Politics Trumps Policy in Obama Budget“:

Washington (CNN) — A piece of advice: If you’re worried about President Barack Obama’s budget, find something else to fret over. The president’s blueprint has about as much chance of becoming law as yours. It’s all about election year 2012, not fiscal year 2013.

Don’t take my word for it. Take Harry Reid’s. The Senate majority leader — the Democrat most responsible for moving Obama’s agenda through Congress — said Friday that there’s no need to bring the budget to a vote this year.

“It’s done. We don’t need to do it,” Reid said, citing spending outlines agreed to in August’s debt ceiling agreement.

Well, OK then. Stand at ease. And wait for the Santorum administration and the newly elected members of Congress to step up to the plate in January. Just kiddin’.

Well, maybe not. As Chuck Todd opined on Morning Joe this morning nothing much is going to happen in Congress until after the November elections — then it will be a fire drill featuring the lame ducks to pass or reject key legislation, including the Bush tax cuts that expire at the end of this year.

So I might as well take advantage of this continuing lull in the action Inside the Beltway and catch up on the only issue of Sports Illustrated worth looking at.

Enjoy.

The federal budget, apparently, can wait until next year.

 

 

Cowboy Poets Versus DC Budget Cutters

OK, gang. Get out your pens and pencils. Here’s another pop quiz. In 500 words or less, should the federal government fund an organization in Nevada that among other things holds an annual gathering to celebrate cowboy poetry?

And remember that your answer should be in the context of the slicing and dicing going on Inside the Beltway now to eliminate some $38 billion in federal spending this year — with more cuts expected in 2012 and beyond.

Here’s the story about the cowboy poets — from the NYT, “For Cowboy Poets, Unwelcome Spotlight in Battle Over Spending“:

ELKO, Nev. — This isolated town in the northeast Nevada mountains is known for gold mines, ranches, casinos, bordellos and J. M. Capriola, a destination store with two floors of saddles, boots, spurs and chaps. It is also the birthplace of the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering, a celebration of range song and poetry that draws thousands of cowboys and their fans every January and receives some money from the federal government.

That once-obscure gathering became a target in the budget battle a world away in Washington last week, employed by conservatives as a symbol of fiscal waste. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, a Democrat and the majority leader, invoked the event in arguing against Republican cuts in arts financing in the budget debate, setting off a conflagration of conservative scorn.

It put cowboy poetry and Elko, a heavily Republican town with a population of 17,000 about 230 miles east of Reno, very much on the ideological map, like it or not.

By every account, Mr. Reid is an admirer of what takes place here. He grew up in small-town Nevada, is a fan of cowboy culture and has boasted in news releases of getting money for the Western Folklife Center, which sponsors the event. His mention of the gathering, as an example of what he views as valuable projects financed by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, appears to be an innocent — if unfortunate — political misstep by a leader who is known for occasional political missteps.

“He was trying to defend the National Endowment for the Humanities and the N.E.A., and he thought, this is something that he was familiar with and he’s always liked, and he was holding this up as an example,” said Charlie Seemann, the executive director of the Western Folklife Center, a converted 98-year-old hotel on Railroad Street. “And, whoops! In this political climate it was too good a target: ‘Cowboy poetry, say what? We’re paying for that?’ ”

Mr. Reid, through a spokesman, declined to comment.

In fact, the amount of taxpayer money going to the Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which has met since 1985, is someplace between small and minuscule.

In most years, the government provided about $45,000 to the Western Folklife Center; the conference costs about $650,000 to $700,000, with two-thirds of the money coming from ticket sales. The N.E.A. provided seed money in the early 1980s that allowed researchers to gather oral histories from aging practitioners of what was than seen as a dying art, and to finance what turned out to be the first cowboy poetry gathering.

Yet no matter. The Cowboy Poetry Gathering has been mocked by Sarah Palin on Twitter, most recently on Friday, and on Rush Limbaugh’s show.

The gathering and Mr. Reid have been denounced by prominent Republicans in Congress — Representative Mike Pence of Indiana drew loud cheers as he attacked Mr. Reid’s position at a rally outside the Capitol last week — and by a host of Tea Party supporters on full battle alert in the budget fight in Washington.

“Given where we are with our financial situation — and some people would argue regardless of that — this is not something that the federal government should be doing,” said Thomas A. Schatz, the president of Citizens Against Government Waste. “If people want to support a certain amount of activity in the arts or humanities, they should be paying for it. And the fact that Senator Reid for some reason picked this as an example of how extreme the Republican budget was — he might have picked something else.”

So where do you find yourself on the issue of cowboy poets versus DC budget cutters?

And remember. Waiting in the 2012 budget-cutting on deck circle are some heavy hitters: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. And some smaller but equally contentious ones: Head Start, Planned Parenthood, public broadcasting among them.

Oh mama. Don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys — or budget cutters.

Presidential Politics and Cutting Entitlements

OK. Prez O is down for the 2012 election. He announced his bid for re-election early this a.m. via YouTube. And apparently his campaign team is going to send a blast e-mail later to those who supported his election last time around. Note to self: enhance the spam filter.

And while the Prez is off and running, the real race for the White House — and for Congress — begins Tuesday when the House Republicans unveil their spending plan and priorities for 2012 and the years ahead.

Here’s from the NYT, “Budget Fight Looming on Medicare and Government’s Size“:

Congress has yet to settle its first budget fight of the year but is already about to move on to an even more consequential fiscal clash.

Even as the two parties struggled over the weekend to reach a deal on federal spending for the next six months and avert a government shutdown at the end of the week, House Republicans were completing a budget proposal for next year and beyond. It is likely to spur an ideological showdown over the size of government and the role of entitlement programs like Medicaid and Medicare.

The plan, which is scheduled to be unveiled Tuesday, will be the most ambitious Republican effort since the November elections to put a conservative stamp on economic and domestic policy. It involves far greater stakes for Congress and for President Obama — substantively and politically — than the current fight over spending cuts.

The outcome of that fight was still uncertain on Saturday as Congressional staff members assembled new proposals and the White House said that Mr. Obama had called House Speaker John A. Boehner and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, to urge them to find an acceptable compromise. He reminded them that time “is running short.”

The longer-term budget proposal has been led by Representative Paul D. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who is the party’s leading voice on budget matters, and will go beyond numbers to provide policy prescriptions.

It will call for deep spending cuts again in 2012, chart a path to reducing the deficit and slowing the growth of the accumulating national debt, and grapple with the politically volatile issue of reining in the cost of entitlement programs, starting with Medicaid, which provides health coverage for the poor.

“We want to get spending and debt under control, and we want to get the economy growing, and we want to address the big drivers of our debt, and that is the entitlement programs,” Mr. Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee, said in an interview. “We have a moral obligation to the country to do this.”

Ah, so what are we talking about here in, like, actual dollars? Here’s from USA Today, “Larger debt debate looms on the Hill“:

The $33 billion or more that lawmakers want to cut from the federal budget to avoid a partial government shutdown is but a small down payment on what could be much bigger cuts to come.

Even as the White House and congressional leaders work to finalize their latest deal, a bipartisan group of senators is seeking to cut $4 trillion from federal deficits over the next decade — 120 times more than the amount being sought to avert a shutdown.

Wow. A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you are talking about real money.

And to slice trillions out of the federal budget some, maybe all, of the sacred cows — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — are going to have to be bludgeoned, if not slaughtered. That’s going to require plenty of our elected leaders to consider their moral obligation — both for and against.

And it’s going to require some presidential leadership.

For the 2012 elections: game on.

 

Budget Cuts and Cherry Blossoms

Well, I’m heading Inside the Beltway for a few days. And I figured that since I had to go to DC at some point late March or early April anyway, this was as good a time as any. The federal government appears still to be operating. The cherry blossoms cling to the trees. And the Cleveland Indians are still in first place.

Play ball.

By this time next week, things could change. The federal government — since the folks in Congress can’t agree on a 2011 budget let alone spending for 2012 — could be closed for business in early April. Here’s from the NYT, “Budget Impasse Increases Risk of U.S. Shutdown“:

With time running short and budget negotiations this week having reached an angry impasse, Congressional leaders are growing increasingly pessimistic about reaching a bipartisan deal that would avert a government shutdown in early April.

Senior Democratic officials involved in high-level efforts to bring House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the White House to a budget agreement said that while some progress had been made toward an accord on an overall level of spending cuts, the parties remained divided on the final figure and had to resolve the fate of ideologically charged policy provisions demanded by House conservatives.

Some senior Republicans, after relying on House Democrats to help pass the most recent short-term measure, are also uneasy about having to team up with Democrats again to pass any compromise that dips too far below the $61 billion in spending reductions endorsed by the House for the current fiscal year. Senate Democrats want to wring some of the savings out of mandatory spending programs like Medicare, an approach Republicans are resisting.

Aides said that even if myriad outstanding issues were resolved and an agreement struck late next week after lawmakers returned, it would be a challenge to write the legislation and move it through Congress before the current financing bill expires on April 8.

Well, good luck to those in Congress who have dithered over this for a year or more now. And I know that eventually the budget-cutting axe will hover over the big three — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  Wow. Grandma won’t have the money to pay for gas to drive for her appointment with the death panel. Oops. I digress.

Sorry. I’m back. As our elected officials opine and seek the TV Talking Head high ground on budget and spending issues in the days ahead, consider a recent report from the Government Accountability Office. Here’s from WaPo, “Government overlap costs taxpayers billions, GAO reports“:

You think the government redundancies President Obama recently griped about were bad? Federal auditors found plenty more.

During his State of the Union address, Obama noted that 12 federal agencies or offices deal with international trade and at least two regulate salmon. Top administration officials are planning to revamp how the government handles trade issues — and may later turn to other programs.

They’ll have plenty to choose from, according to a Government Accountability Officereport released Tuesday. The U.S. government has more than 100 programs dealing with surface transportation issues, 82 monitoring teacher quality, 80 for economic development, 47 for job training, 20 offices or programs devoted to homelessness and 17 different grant programs for disaster preparedness. Another 15 agencies or offices handle food safety, and five are working to ensure the federal government uses less gasoline.

“Reducing or eliminating duplication, overlap, or fragmentation could potentially save billions of taxpayer dollars annually and help agencies provide more efficient and effective services,” the GAO said. Merging or terminating operations as recommended in the report could save up to several billion dollars.

The study, mandated last year as part of legislation raising the federal debt limit, is likely to be cited by lawmakers pushing for deeper spending cuts as part of ongoing budget negotiations. Several congressional offices received advanced copies of the report on Monday; The Washington Post obtained a written summary from congressional aides.

“This report will make us look like jackasses,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who read the report, told reporters Monday. He sponsored the amendment requiring the report’s publication.

An outspoken critic of government waste, Coburn has said that Congress and the executive branch are equally to blame for failing to control spending. Last Halloween, his office published a report concluding that the federal government has paid nearly $1 billion to at least 250,000 dead people since 2000.

Wow. Did Sen. Coburn really say “this report will make us look like jackasses”? Most likely. Although admittedly, people living in most any part of the country other than DC don’t need a GAO report to reach that conclusion. Just sayin’.

So while I’m Inside the Beltway I’ll keep a close eye on the jackasses — and the cherry blossoms, which will most likely vanish at about the same time as the federal government is set to close its doors.

I’ll have to leave the Cleveland Indians to others. Some problems are too big to solve.

Watson and the Federal Budget

Well, I actually watched a little of Jeopardy last night. You would think I could answer at least some of the questions. What gives with that? And what gives that Watson, a computer, thumped two Jeopardy wizards and former champions?

Full disclosure: I generally only see Jeopardy because it immediately follows Wheel of Fortune. And nobody turns letters better than Vanna White. Just sayin’.

Anyway, I’ll let the folks at NPR do the semi-heavy lifting this a.m. Here’s a blog post, “Jeopardy Suggests That It’s Really Time To Start Worrying About Robots“:

The puny humans are on the ropes.

On Tuesday night’s installment of Jeopardy!, the second night of a three-night challenge, the computer known as Watson gave a pants-down spanking to its two human opponents, champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. According to The New York Times, Watson was the first to buzz in on 25 out of 30 answers in the Double Jeopardy round, and it got 24 of them right. (Ultimately, Watson stumbled only on a question that indirectly involved Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. But honestly, by being completely confused when confronted with O’Hare, the computer only makes itself seem more deeply human.)

Watson has more than $35,000. Rutter has $10,400. Jennings has $4,800. Unless the final round includes a lot of questions requiring contestants to talk about their feelings or about how it feels to wriggle your toes in the freshly mowed grass of spring, things do not look good for our team. And by “our team,” I mean “those of us with brains made of brains.”

But don’t despair. We’re pretty sure there are still things you can do that a computer can’t do. Can a computer cry at Lost when Jack and Hurley were hugging? Can it giggle when a kid in a Darth Vader mask tries to start a Jetta? Can it care to an irrational degree whether the Green Bay Packers win the Super Bowl? Can it worry about whether it’s going to be replaced by another computer?

Wednesday night will tell the tale. But if Watson wins, you might want to unplug your coffee maker before you go to bed, lest you wake up with it standing over you, answering trivia questions and demanding all your jewelry.

Well, yeah, that’s a concern.

But I’ll opine that we are missing an opportunity here by not pressing Watson into public service, acting as an impartial arbitrator during the months — years? — ahead as members of the administration and Congress — and the related gaggle of hanger-ons (lobbyists, policy wonks and other miscreants) essentially march in place while searching for ways to cut federal spending without gutting economic and future growth and alienating large groups of voters and interest groups.

Nobody Inside the Beltway right now appears to have any answers.

So as this year’s version of the budget game is just under way, let’s call in Watson from the bullpen. I bet he/she/it could put some real heat on the heavy hitters.

And yes. We’ll still have Vanna to help us go gently into that post dinner and happy hour snooze.

The Budget Debate: A Terrible Divide?

Prez O is getting ready to unveil the 2012 fiscal year budget next week, and many Inside the Beltway and out are already in the queue, waiting to see who wins and who loses as the administration speaks with dollars not words.

Clearly as a nation we are going to face some tough spending choices, ranging from defense and foreign aid to social programs, with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security the big fish in that skillet. One word from a senior citizen on a fixed income (me): gulp.

Anyway, without knowing specifics of the budget priorities and proposed spending cuts or increases, I’ll make only one prediction: we’ll have a shit storm next week that engulfs Congress, the blogosphere and the land of the TV Talking Heads.

Here’s Jacob Lew, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, framing the upcoming debate in a NYT op-ed, “The Easy Cuts Are Behind Us“:

We cannot win the future, expand the economy and spur job creation if we are saddled with increasingly growing deficits. That is why the president’s budget is a comprehensive and responsible plan that will put us on a path toward fiscal sustainability in the next few years — a down payment toward tackling our challenges in the long term.

This starts with doing what families and businesses have been doing during this downturn: tightening our belts. In the budget, the president will call for a five-year freeze on discretionary spending other than for national security. This will reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade and bring this category of spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

Make no mistake: this will not be easy. It will require tough choices since every decision to invest in one program will necessitate a cut somewhere else. In each of the past two years, the administration has put forward about $20 billion in savings from ending some programs and reducing funds for others. This entailed finding programs that were duplicative, outdated and ineffective. But to achieve the deeper cuts needed to support this spending freeze, we have had to look beyond the obvious and cut spending for purposes we support. We had to choose programs that, absent the fiscal situation, we would not cut.

OK. Tough — and politically unpopular — choices ahead. And lawmakers and policy wonks will be doing this in an environment where many Americans are greatly concerned about the future of this country — if not for themselves, then for their children and grandchildren.

Here’s Bob Herbert opining in the New York Times, “A Terrible Divide“:

The Ronald Reagan crowd loved to talk about morning in America. For millions of individuals and families, perhaps the majority, it’s more like twilight — with nighttime coming on fast.

Look out the window. More and more Americans are being left behind in an economy that is being divided ever more starkly between the haves and the have-nots. Not only are millions of people jobless and millions more underemployed, but more and more of the so-called fringe benefits and public services that help make life livable, or even bearable, in a modern society are being put to the torch.

And:

The U.S. cannot cut its way out of this crisis. Instead of trying to figure out how to keep 4-year-olds out of pre-kindergarten classes, or how to withhold life-saving treatments from Medicaid recipients, or how to cheat the elderly out of their Social Security, the nation’s leaders should be trying seriously to figure out what to do about the future of the American work force.

Enormous numbers of workers are in grave danger of being left behind permanently. Businesses have figured out how to prosper without putting the unemployed back to work in jobs that pay well and offer decent benefits.

Corporate profits and the stock markets are way up. Businesses are sitting atop mountains of cash. Put people back to work? Forget about it. Has anyone bothered to notice that much of those profits are the result of aggressive payroll-cutting — companies making do with fewer, less well-paid and harder-working employees?

For American corporations, the action is increasingly elsewhere. Their interests are not the same as those of workers, or the country as a whole. As Harold Meyerson put it in The American Prospect: “Our corporations don’t need us anymore. Half their revenues come from abroad. Their products, increasingly, come from abroad as well.”

American workers are in a world of hurt. Anyone who thinks that politicians can improve this sorry state of affairs by hacking away at Social Security, Medicare and the public schools are great candidates for involuntary commitment.

Herbert does an effective job of looking at not just the terrible divide in this country — but the one that will be on display in Congress and elsewhere next week as we look at how much we are willing — able? — to spend and where the money and resources will go.

Just sayin’.

New ideas on a grand scale are needed. The United States can’t thrive with so many of its citizens condemned to shrunken standards of living because they can’t find adequate employment. Long-term joblessness is a recipe for societal destabilization. It should not be tolerated in a country with as much wealth as the United States. It’s destructive, and it’s wrong.