Ten days ago in a small room off the House floor, I met with Public Safety Appropriations Chairman Scott Lingamfelter to hammer out a deal on Alicia's Law. He said " you made your case. I'm going to get the ICAC's more funding. You have my word as a VMI man." This week I know those words are hollow.
Alicia's Law has always had broad bi-partisan support. Leaders like Delegate Dave Albo, Senator Creigh Deeds, Delegate Mark Sickles, Delegate Todd Gilbert, Senator Janet Howell, Delegate Ben Cline and Delegate Rob Bell are just a few of the members that have led the charge to fight for more resources to rescue children.
Lingamfelter, who hung on to his seat in the last general election by a few hundred votes, is joined in opposition to Alicia's Law now by his appropriations chairman Delegate Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), who has a likely opponent in his next primary. They have both made it clear: there will be no vote on increased funding for Alicia's Law (not a dime of which is taxpayer money) and there will be no rescue for the thousands of raped children who languish at the hands of their abusers in Virginia.
I am Director of Legislative Affairs for PROTECT, a lobby devoted to the protection of children from harm. We don't take a dime of government money and only advocate for laws that effectively interdict the most heinous offenders in Virginia: the ones that rape children. You'd think our job down in Richmond would be easy right? Who in their right mind would ever be opposed to rescuing children from the people who rape them?
RICHMOND- Governor Bob McDonnell unveiled the Commonwealth’s budget for the next two fiscal years in a morning address to the Joint Money Committees of the General Assembly. The budget, totaling approximately $95.9 billion for the biennium (General Fund: $37.7 billion; Non-General Fund: $58.2 billion), continues the governor’s focus on promoting private-sector job creation and growing the Commonwealth’s economy in spite of ongoing fiscal uncertainty at the federal level.
In addressing the Joint Money Committees, the governor remarked, “We have talked many times about the “Virginia Way” by which we govern. We analyze and debate budget and policy issues passionately but civilly. Then we find common ground and solve problems. The Virginia Way is one of sharing credit for getting positive results for the good of our people. Eight million people are counting on the Virginia Way continuing!
“This approach is especially important today when my introduced budget is handed off to a governor-elect of a different party. Accomplishments and progress require statesmanship in both branches of government. I hope you will find the Virginia Way at work in these budget recommendations. The major spending recommendations focus on the core public services which lead to prosperity. They also decrease our reliance on budgetary gimmicks that helped in the past but run counter to structural balance and sound financial judgment. You will also find a fair amount of embedded caution, given the global economic and national political uncertainty.”
The governor concluded his remarks noting, “Over the past four years we have worked together to put the “Virginia Way” to work in building a “Commonwealth of Opportunity” for all Virginians. With your cooperation, we have gotten very good results for our citizens. Unemployment has fallen from 7.4% to 5.6%. Over 172,000 net new jobs have been created, and we are the country’s most business friendly state! We passed the first long-term transportation funding plan in a generation. Our colleges and universities are more affordable and accessible, and on the way to issuing 100,000 new degrees for Virginia students. We reduced the future liability in our pension system by $9 billion. We’ve brought more innovation, accountability, and choice to our K-12 system and rewarded our excellent, hard-working teachers. We’ve cared for the prisoners, the orphans, the hungry, the mentally ill, and the homeless, as the Scriptures say we must. Today, as I enter my last weeks as governor, I sincerely thank you for your strong partnership, your warm friendship, and your can-do, results-oriented leadership. By any metric, Virginia is stronger today, and we left the campground better than we found it. Our economy is growing. Our schools, roads, pensions, people, natural resources, and jobs are stronger. Now, as you consider this biennial budget, I ask that you keep this progress going and work with Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe and his team to accomplish even more in the years ahead.”
General Fund revenue growth of 4.2 percent is expected in fiscal year 2015, with growth of 3.9 percent anticipated in fiscal year 2016
Selected Highlights of the Governor's Biennial Budget:
·Triples the Rainy Day Fund from beginning of governor’s term; Fund will reach $1 billion by 2016
·Allocates $183.1 million in additional, new higher education funding; Brings new administration investment in Virginia’s colleges and universities to nearly $600 million
·Provides $38.3 million in new funding for mental health priorities
·Leaves unappropriated balance of $50.9 Million in general fund to provide for greater budget flexibility and latitude for General Assembly and incoming McAuliffe Administration; Largest unappropriated balance since 1991
·Identifies $261 million in targeted savings
·Provides for another performance bonus payment of up to 3% for state employees before Christmas 2014; Bonus contingent upon satisfactory employee performance and savings generated at end of current Fiscal Year equal to twice cost of bonus
·Includes $582.6 million in increased funding in biennium for K-12 and Pre-K
·Dedicates $16.2 million to cover biennial cost of providing foster care and adoption payments. Includes 3% increase in foster care payment rates; Beginning in FY 2016, provides funds to expand foster care and adoption subsidies to age 21 for the most vulnerable youth
·Makes available $6.5 million to address study requirements that must be met to allow additional dredging at Norfolk Harbor, as well as for the deepening of the Elizabeth River channel
·Supplies additional $1.5 Million for Port of Virginia Economic and Infrastructure Development Zone Grant Fund to encourage private-sector companies to locate along transportation corridors leading to Port
·Presents additional $196.7 million to fund debt service on all capital projects previously authorized by General Assembly, as well as debt service on select new projects
·Fully funds pension reform commitment of phasing-in increases to state and teacher retirement contributions to reduce future unfunded liabilities
·Provides additional $315.3 million for the general fund share of state and teacher pension benefits representing funding at 80 percent of the full pension contribution rates, as well as funding for the 10-year scheduled payback of deferred employee retirement contributions from fiscal years 2011 and 2012.
·Dedicates $55.3 million To Support Public Safety Efforts; Includes $22.2 million for Sheriffs, Commonwealth's Attorneys, and Circuit Court Clerk Deputies to fund new hires, reduce overcrowding in jails, fund long overdue pay increases, and support other critical operations; Also $21.3 million in additional funding to assist local law enforcement through the "599" program
·Directs $11 million to the City of Richmond for the development, creation, and enhancement of the Slavery and Freedom Heritage Site
·Continues governor’s commitment to improving Virginia’s prisoner re-entry process with $2.8 million in new funding to help prisoners successfully rejoin society; additionally appropriates nearly $450,000 for additional staffing to further streamline and expedite the state’s restoration of rights process
·Ensures $4 million for oyster restoration efforts; $2 million each year of the biennium. Virginia’s recent efforts to revitalize the state’s historic oyster industry have resulted in 2012 seeing the largest harvest in the Commonwealth since 1987; the oyster industry had an economic impact of $42.6 million last year
·Dedicates over $31 million from the FY2013 budget surplus to the Water Quality Improvement Fund
·Provides $7.2 million for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program to provide access to life-saving medications for the treatment of HIV and related illnesses for low-income clients
·Directs $8 million over the biennium to the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, and $500,000 in additional revenue each year to Virginia’s rapid re-housing program, all designed to continue the administration’s homelessness prevention and reduction efforts. Over the last four years, overall homelessness in Virginia has declined by 16%
Ed Kilgore of the Washington Monthly and Bryce Covert of ThinkProgress sum up the budget deal reached by Paul "Lyin'" Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray. In sum, it's not ALL bad, but there's a bunch of really bad stuff in it. Here are the parts I find particularly objectionable.
1. "Most importantly, the deal left out an extension of unemployment (UI) benefits for the million or so people who will run out of benefits-and out of luck-at year's end. Individual pain aside, that will greatly undermine if not completely cancel the stimulative effect of the deal. It will also represent something of an official surrender by the federal government on unemployment..." Horrible, unconscionable, heartless and stupid, all wrapped up into one - the prototypical Teapublican combination. Ugh.
2. "[T]he total of $85 billion in 'savings' in the deal comes mainly from significantly higher pension contributions by new federal employees and new fees on commercial air travel." In other words, make those evil bureaucrats (aka, dedicated civil servants) pay more yet again out of their pockets, while not, let's say, cutting corporate welfare for fossil fuel companies, or putting a cap on deductions for people making over $500k or whatever, etc. Over the past few years, it seems to me that federal employees have been repeatedly whacked, and for what purpose? In no way, shape, or form are federal salaries what's driving our deficits (that would be health care costs, for the most part). No, this is all about Republicans wanting to screw a bunch of people they dislike, for no good reason other than vitriol. Pathetic.
3. "[T]he deal doesn't appear to address the cuts that ravaged many programs this year." For instance: "Meals on Wheels, Section 8 housing voucher assistance, and homelessness assistance. Some schools had to close and some scientists had to halt their research projects or fire staff."
From Virginia Organizing. Note that Virginia's current minimum wage of $7.25/hour is just one fifth of of what a single adult with two children needs to earn to get by in our state. The living wage for a single adult is calculated at $18.59/hour. Clearly, we're not even close, even as we shell out huge tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals. There's simply no excuse for this.
Richmond, Va.—On Wednesday, December 4, Virginia Organizing released a report authored by the Alliance for a Just Society detailing the living wage “job gap” in Virginia. This is the 15th year the report has been produced.
In Virginia, there are approximately seven job seekers for every one job that pays a living wage in a single adult household. That number increases to 16 job seekers for every one living wage job available in a two-child, single parent household.
Speakers expressed concern that Virginia has not agreed to expand Medicaid and discussed the consequences of failing to expand for the 400,000 Virginians who would benefit, our communities, and our economy. Medicaid expansion would add well-paying jobs to the economy and reduce the cost of living for many low-income Virginians.
Eunice Haigler, a Virginia Organizing leader from Fredericksburg who is directly affected by Medicaid, understands the real consequences that lack of health care can have.
“In 2010, I was working, but I made too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to purchase health insurance,” said Haigler. “I had to put food on the table for my family instead of getting health care I needed. As a result of not having Medicaid then, and not being able to get the medicine or treatment I needed for a tumor, I am partially blind today.”
“This report shows what Virginians already know—we need better wages and better social safety net programs in Virginia,” said Virginia Organizing Chairperson Sandra A. Cook. “Medicaid expansion and an increase in the minimum wage can clearly help those working low-wage jobs have more financial security and add more to the economy through being able to afford to spend money in local communities. These things are good for all of us.”
Virginia’s failure to expand Medicaid has already cost well-paying jobs in Pennington Gap, Virginia after the Lee Regional Medical Center closed.
“One of the casualties of the politicization of Medicaid expansion was a local hospital,” said Lee County resident and Virginia Organizing leader Jill Carson. “People lost their jobs and now community members have to travel farther for medical treatment. The travel costs add even more to health care costs that many low-income workers already cannot afford due to lack of a living wage.”
To access a recording of the tele-media conference, please call 712-432-1202 and use access code 529122#, reference number 1.
Repeatedly, we are told by both the TeaPublicans and the media that Democrats won't negotiate. But they do and have. Moreover, they have compromised far more than most people realize. When describing the hostage-taking TeaPublicans' behavior, we justifiably used words like extortion and blackmail, to describe what they and Boehner are doing. Yes, we should call them out for their treasonous economic terrorism. But we inadvertently failed to fully inform voters about the actual budget. We don't use those numbers to show what has really happened. It would be nice if reporters actually did their job. But they won't, so we must. We'll do it with a little help from Taegan Goddard's blog and the chart above from Michale Linden and Harry Stein of the Center for American Progress I'll cut to the chase, as the authors say, the Continuing Resolution (CR) is already a compromise. The numbers come from OMB.
Harry Reid offered up nearly everything Paul Ryan wanted budget number-wise. It's austerity on steroids. And it still isn't enough for the TeaPublicans because they want to decimate the government and any of its non-military programs.
The figures on the chart pertain to "discretionary" spending, which is not to say the programs therein are all optional. Take a look at the numbers again:
The Cato Institute, funded by a who's who of right-wing billionaires, big-money polluters, and corporations looking to preserve tax loopholes, is once again attacking assistance for the elderly, disabled & working poor. Here's how Cato's scam works: They assume every possible recipient takes 100% advantage of every possible benefit available to them. This is self-evidently stupid: If recipients were making as much as Cato laughably claims, their income would be too high to receive many of those same benefits.
But does that stop right-wing media from parroting Cato's nonsense? Of course not! Fox, Rush Limbaugh, and a litany of other talking heads were among those uncritically repeating Cato's claims. Not mentioned: That Cato and its extremist allies are totally fine with billions in annual taxpayer handouts for oil and coal polluters, corporate tax dodgers, and wealthy dead people.
God, I wish Mark Warner were up for re-election this year. When the time comes, primary the man. Somebody, please. Come to think of it, though, as we learned in Virginia previously, North Carolina this past year, and in South Carolina this week, voters can be as stupid as hell, voting against their interests over and over. Early polls show Virginia voters may be poised to redefine stupid ever more downward. How else can one explain that some voters actually think Kookinelli preferable in the VA governor's race or that Mark Warner is actually on their side? There is simply no Democrat more in the pocket of austerity emperor Peter Peterson. You recall, this buddy of the Koch brothers and 20th/21st Century co-conspirators against the American people for decades, is also co-architect of a plutocracy organized to enrich the 1% (and squash the rest like bugs). And it is time everyone understand what that means.
The discredited austerity emperors have been shown to have no clothes. The economic data since the 1980s show trickle down voodoo "economics" does not work. (So now the House GOP is considering legislation to end the collection of economic data so we cannot know the truth.) Similarly, the "research" supporting austerity does not exist. The infamous (Peterson-linked) Harvard duo just made the shit up and dropped data inconvenient to their preordained results. Ooops. But Mark Warner persists. (More commentary and the text of his remarks follows.)
Emerging like a cicada from whatever hole he's been hiding in, Ken Cuccinelli this morning announced what he calls his "jobs plan for Virginia". Instead, based on the Washington Post's summary, it looks like Cuccinelli's plan would simply do what Republicans love doing the most: rewarding wealthy individuals and corporations with huge tax cuts, while blowing a massive hole in the budget and saddling the rest of us with the bill. Specifically, Cuccinelli "calls for cutting the corporate income tax rate from 6 percent to 4 percent over four years, and reducing the individual income tax rate from 5.75 percent to 5 percent over that period." The result: "those cuts would cost state government about $1.4 billion a year."
How would Cuccinelli recoup that $1.4 billion a year it? He claims he'll do it by eliminating "tax exemptions and loopholes," but far more likely is that he'll have to do one or more of the following: 1) slash education spending; 2) slash spending on health care; 3) raise taxes on the working and middle classes; 4) screw Virginia's localities; and/or 5) destroy Virginia's AAA bond rating. Unless, of course, you believe that there really are $1.4 billion a year in "tax exemptions and loopholes" that realistically could be cut. And if you believe that one...
Also, see the following statement from the McAuliffe for Governor campaign, which sums it up nicely:
While Ken Cuccinelli has focused his career on divisive social issues like restricting women's health, his new foray into economic issues shows that he puts ideology ahead of sound fiscal management in Virginia. Cuccinelli's proposal would lead to a budget crisis that could undermine education, force localities to dramatically raise property taxes, and threaten the Commonwealth's bond rating. Under Governors Warner, Kaine and McDonnell, Virginia has maintained its reputation as a well-managed state but Cuccinelli's unrealistic and ideological plan would undermine that tradition. Virginians know there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Equally unrealistic is Cuccinelli's bizarre attempt to claim that he supported the recent work of Governor McDonnell. Cuccinelli's attempts to claim credit for McDonnell's signature transportation compromise have been mocked in the past since it is well-documented Cuccinelli was one of the extremists who tried to derail the bipartisan plan.
Terry McAuliffe has proposed realistic, mainstream solutions to make Virginia the best for business including responsible local tax reform, strengthening workforce training, streamlining economic development and diversifying Virginia's economy. While Cuccinelli tried to stop Governor McDonnell's transportation plan at each and every step, Terry was proud to encourage passage of the bipartisan compromise that will reduce gridlock and improve competitiveness.
You have heard at least a part of this story, but there is so much more beneath the surface. With their supposedly seminal 2011 work, "Growth in the Time of Debt," Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff were gurus to austerity hawks. Reinhart was, according to the NY Times, "the most influential female economist in the world." Indeed Paul Ryan lapped up the faux austerity "results." The same authors had burst onto the international stage in 2010 when they "found' grounds for austerity in another study.
"The authors purported to show that once county's gross debt to GDP ration crosses the threshold of 90%, economic growth slows dramatically," according to an Alternet article.
It turns out that that was a crock. Influential, you see, is not the same as correct. Another research team couldn't replicate the original authors' findings. So it requested the raw data.
Wonder why the President doesn't give a damn about his base, the folks who worked to put him in office?Yeah,it is because of Citizens United. Yeah, it's his personal flaw that he would sell us out to Wall Street and Big Oil, who are behind all the deficit Chicken Little. And Yeah, he is the worst negotiator ever. Of course that is assuming that he ever cared about ordinary Americans at all. And it bears mentioning he has given far less attention to creating jobs than creating austerity, or anti-jobs. He can't have it both ways.
So, he offers up massive "deficit reduction" after previously offering up trillions (2.6 trillion to be specific). He knows this will be recessionary, but he doesn't care. And then there are the cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). They will affect each and every one of us over time. And they have an escalating effect on other things, such as tax brackets, as ElaineinRoanoke illustrated in her otherwise excellent diary today. Frankly, I do not understand the sanguine reaction expressed in that post. Here is a more appropriate reaction, imho. The cuts will eventually cause significant harm to most Americans. And the harm ought not to be shrugged off. We should be speaking out, loudly! We should be organizing! We should be on the mall in Washington. If only we could primary the president...Not that it would matter.
Primaries matter, of course, but even those of us who worked for him and donated something have little power. We have zero actually. 132 people pretty much run our political universe. As Lawrence Lessig illustrated in his Lesterland TED Talk, the US is Lesterland. The Lesters are the .05 percent (.05 percent, not 5 percent, of Americans). There are 144,000 Lesters in America's Lesterland. They gave the maximum personal contribution. They could afford thousands. BTW, only .25 percent of Americans give $200 or more to presidential campaigns. Guess who's never going to do that again?
[Read about the real purse strings below the fold.]
Just as Terry McAulliffe and even the President dutifully and publicly filled out their NCAA March Madness brackets, there was NPR telling listeners yesterday that it is all for naught. After all, any individual's chances of getting the brackets right is 9 quintillion to one for the 64 teams, which is way, way worse odds than the chance of getting struck by lightening. Getting it right is just too random to waste your time on "bracketology." It is a useless enterprise. But (almost) everyone does it. The widespread perception that one can actually get the entire March Madness brackets right is based on a misunderstanding of statistics, probabilities, and (yes) reason. But then we all misperceive probabilities, even those who know better. Regardless, all manner of sportscasters, celebrities and just plain folks occupy their time dutifully filling out their brackets.
So, I have to ask, is this useless enterprise more important than, say, defending seniors, kids and more against Paul Ryan (don't look now but an even worse version of his budget just passed the House today)? And do not citizens everywhere make better use of their time writing to the President and telling him to not throw us all (seniors, kids, workers, the sick, the poor, and more) under the bus or on "the table"? Wouldn't it be a better use of time to call Nancy Pelosi and tell her to stop caving before the negotiations even take place? The odds would be vastly better than 9 quintillion to one if every single citizen who cares got on the phone and on the email system of Congress. You can even do it while you watch!!!!!! Why, if every Democrat told their representatives her or she will withhold support if they don't stop the caving to the 1%, imagine how things might change!
See below for Rep. Jim Moran's statement on House passage - on totally partisan lines - of Paul Ryan's "ideological" budget that benefits the wealthy and screws the rest of us big time. Guess which Virginia Congresscritters voted for this monstrosity? That's right: Can'tor, Goodlatte, Griffith, Hurt, Rigell, Wittman, Wolf. The usual suspects, in other words. Get these guys outta here!
Congressman Jim Moran, Northern Virginia Democrat, released the following statement on H.Con.Res. 25, the Republican Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Resolution introduced by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI). The budget passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 221-207.
The budget proposed by the Republican majority today is an ideological document that lays out a path to prosperity for only the wealthiest Americans, while undermining our recovery and long term economic strength through deep cuts to investments in our infrastructure, education, and research.
The American public resoundingly rejected Paul Ryan's ideological budget when he introduced roughly the same document last year. It would cost two million jobs next year alone, and includes more than $5 trillion in tax cuts and giveaways to the wealthiest Americans.
The Ryan Budget devastates the federal government's ability to invest in our nation's future by drastically cutting social safety net programs. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 66 percent of its $5 trillion in non-defense budget cuts over ten years come from programs that serve low and moderate income Americans.
By contrast, the Democratic proposal, introduced by Rep. Van Hollen, puts 1.2 million more people to work this year than the GOP budget, invests in education, energy, research, and infrastructure.
The Ryan budget resolution reflects a Republican Party's vision for an America where only the wealthy are given the resources and opportunities to thrive. It is a vision that has already been rejected by the American people.
During the Cold War, America capitalism was a positive influence, both as an idea and as a political force. The alternative was communism. The relative virtues were obvious.
Compare Eastern Europe, under the sway of the Soviets, with Western Europe -- the brightness of democracy contrasted with the grimness of dictatorship, the prosperity of the West contrasted with the deprivations of the East.
In that context and in that time, we Americans were justified in seeing our capitalist system as the good guy.
Over the past generation, capitalism has continued to strive to extend its dominion. But now the alternative against which it is fighting is no longer the failed system of communism, which collapsed in some places, was abandoned in others, and was discredited worldwide. The alternative that American capitalism battles politically now is the kind of mixed economy that virtually every market society in the world -- including the United States -- found to be preferable to unbridled capitalism for creating a decent society and providing a good life for people generally.
In that system, the market and its powerful actors are understood to be but one of several legitimate claimants in determining the destiny of a society.
In the 1950s, corporate America was more accepting of the idea of a mixed economy. American capitalism granted that in addition to big business, big labor and big government had important roles in advancing values other than those of corporate wealth and power.
But in these times, the political power of American corporate capitalism is marshaled to weaken other competing forces in the American power system, and thereby sweep aside considerations other than those of financial profit.
The American corporate system used to recognize -- albeit sometimes grudgingly -- the rights of workers. Now it uses political clout to erode the rights to organize and to get a fair share of the abundance that capitalism produces.
Earlier today, Paul "Lyin'" Ryan released the latest version of his all-cuts, all-harm-to-the-middle-and-working-classes, voucherize-Medicare, screw-seniors, give-a-big-sloppy-wet-kiss-to-the-top-1% budget. Not surprisingly, it sucks. Big time.
First, see ThinkProgress for "The 5 Worst Things About The House GOP's New Budget" (highlights: cuts food stamps and health care coverage, "gives huge tax cuts to the rich and corporations"). Blech.
Next, see the White House statement (on the "flip"), which explains that Ryan's "math just doesn't add up," that his budget "asks nothing from the wealthiest Americans has serious consequences for the middle class," etc. I mean, if this heartless, corporate tool is what passes for a "thought leader" in the Republican Party these days, it's truly a frightening time for our country.
That crazy "socialist in the White House" (that was snark; in reality, of course, Obama's about as middle of the road as you can get) and his wild-eyed economic policies are at it again!
While more work remains to be done, today's employment report provides evidence that the recovery that began in mid-2009 is gaining traction. Today's report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that private sector businesses added 246,000 jobs in February. Total non-farm payroll employment rose by 236,000 jobs last month. The economy has now added private sector jobs every month for three straight years, and a total of 6.35 million jobs have been added over that period.
The household survey showed that the unemployment rate fell from 7.9 percent in January to 7.7 percent in February, the lowest since December 2008...
In other words, the Obama recovery continues, in spite of the best efforts of Republicans to derail it. Latest example: the brain-dead sequester, which was a direct consequence of the Teahadists' wild irresponsibility in holding the nation's credit rating hostage in July 2011. In addition to the adverse impacts of the sequester in the short term, including a potential reduction in the U.S. economic growth rate for 2013, there's also the long-term adverse impact of reduced investment in the things we should be investing in - our infrastructure, clean energy, education, etc. In other words, it's Obama and his middle-of-the-road, balanced approach versus the discredited trickle-down/supply-side voodoo economics of John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Eric Can'tor et al. I know which one I prefer; how about you?
P.S. Another reason to be thrilled that Willard lost the election in November is that he'd now be taking credit for a recovery that has occurred 100% on a Democratic president's watch.
After being off the blog for a few weeks, I had planned to write a different diary tonight. However, tonight I was reading a diary posted a few days ago by Lowell about a progressive "Grand Bargain." I rarely disagree with our "blogfather." But this time I wanted to offer another view. Here goes:
First, there is no need for a Grand Bargain at this time. The deficit is shrinking. If we focus on jobs and rebuild that sector, the deficit will shrink even further and we can fairly easily make progress paying down the debt. Indeed not only is there no need for a Grand Bargain now, but also it is contraindicated as a means to stimulate growth.
Additionally, I believe that Progressives should not use the language of hucksters Peter Peterson, Alan Simpson, and Erskine Bowles. Those and other deficit hawks don't really care about the deficit or the debt at all. Their intent is to eliminate earned benefits, all of them. And it is our job not to let them get away with it.
But let's say that at some point there were a need to make cuts. Let's say we don't get the job growth we need. And let's say we have tried for two more years or so to do just that, and have given it a real try this time, not just an anemic fraction of a real "stimulus."
The solution is to use the Progressive Caucus's budget, aka The People's Budget. Here's is the plan. Indeed it does so fairly and reasonably we could put it in place without harming most Americans as any of the Grand Bargain proposals would.
Don't like the Progressive Caucus plan? Here are just a few ways we can make headway. BTW, these ideas are sure to tick a lot of people off.
Multiple news reports, as well as comments on this morning's talk shows, are indicating the potential exists for a bipartisan "grand bargain" on a long-term deficit reduction deal. Reuters quotes White House senior economic official Gene Sperling that President Obama is "reaching out to Democrats who understand we have to make serious progress on long-term entitlement reform and Republicans who realize that if we had that type of entitlement reform, they'd be willing to have tax reform that raises revenues to lower the deficit." For its part, Roll Call reports that a long-term deficit reduction bargain "could blunt the effects of the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts now in place."
I have no idea how serious any of this is, but it's certainly sounding live a live possibility. With that in mind, I've got a few thoughts on what might constitute a progressive "grand bargain," one that would not just reduce the long-term, structural deficit, but also move our country forward and allow us to move on to other, pressing issues.
1. Far from slashing non-defense discretionary spending, we need to be drastically increasing our investment in America - both its physical capital and "human capital." That means restoring full funding to programs which help educate our people (not just kids, but lifetime learning), massively upgrade our transportation and power grids, kick-start the transition to a clean energy economy, invest in cutting-edge research and development, and basically put money into anything that provides a positive ROI (return on investment) to our nation. It's important to emphasize that although many people confuse "spending" and "investment," they're actually quite different, as "investment" results in stronger economic growth and, in many/most cases, more revenue into the system than has gone out for the investments.
2. We need to raise revenues. Badly (note: current tax revenues are the lowest as a share of GDP "in more than 60 years). To do this, we don't have to raise tax rates (although I would have gotten rid of the Bush tax cuts for anyone who's not truly "middle class" or below). Instead, we can do it by slashing tax expenditures. As David Brooks writes, "[t]hese tax expenditures are hidden but huge...in 2007, they amounted to $600 billion." These expenditures include the exclusion for employer-sponsored health care ($171 billion a year), the mortgage interest deduction ($87 billion), and preferential treatment of capital gains ($66 billion). Then there are all the wasteful subsidies, on things like corn-based ethanol and fossil fuels, which add up to tens of billions of dollars per year. It goes on and on, and basically blows a huge hole in the budget, while making the tax code overly complicated, and also wildly unfair. So...simply the tax code, eliminate, or at least pare back, a lot of these tax expenditures - especially for wealthy corporations and individuals. This idea should have appeal to both Democrats and Republicans.
3. A truly progressive "grand bargain" would shift the tax code so that we are making the things we want to have less of (e.g, pollution) more expensive, while making the things we want to have more of (e.g., productive investment) less expensive. On this front, the Washington Post (of all people) nailed it this morning in its editorial calling for a carbon tax. As the Post points out, this would accomplish multiple goals: reducing carbon emissions, reducing the deficit, allowing for cuts in taxes that discourage investment in the US, etc. This one's a no brainer.
4. There's no doubt in my mind that we need to reform entitlements, which increasingly are taking over our entire budget (turning us into an "insurance company with an army," as the quip goes). Clearly, we need to maintain a social safety net, and clearly we need to protect benefits for people who really need them. But we also need a lot more stringent "means testing" on entitlements so that we're not essentially transferring money from young people (and the future) to well-to-do/rich retired people who really don't need all that money. While we're at it, we need to raise the cap on the payroll tax, which exempts wages over $110,000 from the tax. Why someone making $100 million a year should only be subject to the payroll tax on the first $110,000 of their income, while the remaining $99,890,000 is not subject to the payroll tax, makes no sense to me.
Anyway, those are just a few ideas, not a comprehensive plan. That's nuts. Still, it seems to me that if we did these things, we'd slash and/or completely eliminate the deficit, simplify our tax code, strengthen our nation's future, protect our environment, and reduce the massive inter-generational inequities in our current system. We also would be able to move on from this debilitating debate/self-generated crises over the deficit, and get back to a focus on creating jobs, building a 21st century economy that's "built to last," and dealing with the many other issues - immigration reform, guns, you name it - that have languished over the past few years.
P.S. It should go without saying that we should NOT be doing brain-dead, across-the-board cuts to the tiny slice of the budget known as non-defense discretionary spending. We also should do nothing that would hurt anyone who is truly in need, or that shreds our social safety net (we should be strengthening that for decades to come).
Rep. Bobby Scott makes several excellent points here.
1. You can't cut $1.2 trillion out of the budget "in any intelligent kind of way," as non-defense discretionary spending is already "at the lowest point we've been as a percentage of GDP since before Medicare...You can't make $1.2 trillion in cuts make sense."
2. "If you're not going to have new revenues to help achieve a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction, then the mindless, painful, across-the-board sequester is about the only way to do it." And the reason why we can't get any revenue increases is, very simply, because of one party: Republicans. End of story.
3. The problem is that "people think that you can cut taxes and it doesn't have any effect on the budget...well, if we had cut taxes a little less, we wouldn't have to worry about the sequester, and that's really what we're paying for right now."
4. If we try to fix the sequester, we might have to cut Social Security, which would be even "worse" than the sequester itself.
Steven Brill has a must-read cover story in Time this week detailing how the federal government's refusal to set rates for procedures, services and products means we all pay more for health care. I found this out first-hand last fall when my doctor tried to charge me $95 for a flu shot.
I was in for a routine physical and mentioned, "One of these days I need to go to CVS and get a flu shot." She said, "Oh, I can give you one right now." She grabbed a vaccine and gave me the shot - the whole process lasted about a minute. There was no discussion of price - I assumed it was either free or they'd charge me what the pharmacy does, about $25.
In this article I just published at the Roanoke Times, I explain just how badly Virginia will suffer if Sequestration kicks in, particularly from cuts to the Defense Budget. Our Senators Kaine and Warner have been very willing to compromise, and obviously so has President Obama, to prevent the cuts. Even some Republicans have been willing to compromise in the past (I note some from neighboring states).
But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor continues to lead the hard-line faction that could single-handed, prevent a deal and directly result in over 120,000 Virginians being thrown out of work this year. Then, EVERY year for the next ten,
According to George Mason University, DoD-related sequestration cuts would cost Virginia 136,191 jobs, and annually would suck almost $12billion (nearly 3percent) from Virginia's total economy.
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