Archive for the ‘Great Budget Battles of 2011’ Category


Many people, myself included, believe that the current turn of democratic party ideals to one of austerity in the face of crippling unemployment and vastly widening wealth inequity represents a capitulation to right-wing hysteria over the deficit.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi puts the cap on most dem’s credibility in Congress by appeasing the clarion calls for austerity:

“It is clear we must enter an era of austerity; to reduce the deficit through shared sacrifice.

The arguments against austerity in the time of crippling high unemployment are legion. But our Congress continues to fall victim to hostage negotiations over the kidnapping of the economy by right-wing ideologues. And Congress is willing to submerge the country in an economic ideology that has no basics in reality–that is that our country suffers from a crisis in confidence due to the level of its debt, instead of focusing on the real crux of our economic crisis, which is lack of consumer demand and it’s companion raging high unemployment levels.

But it isn’t my intent here to derail my post with “peripheral” economic arguments. It is to raise the question: is President Obama ready to man up to the right and invoke the 14th Amendment clause intended to prevent the country from defaulting on its debt? Or is it game over? And if it is game over, what are lefties going to do in a political era that has left them no mainstream representation?
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With President Obama’s speech on the budget and how to reduce the federal deficit hitting the headlines today, I thought I’d offer up a morsel of what the left has been thinking about in terms of deficit reduction and budgeting for people to consider as they ponder President Obama’s plan, and the right’s “Path to Prosperity” plan put forth by Rep. Ryan.

I’m not going to go into deep analysis or commentary about this yet, as I’ve just seen both–Obama’s and the House Progressive Caucus’ plans–but I thought it would be good for progressives to know that there is an alternative to Obama’s “balanced” approach to his left.

And I really don’t want to derail Pete’s nice sidelight on the WienerMobile!

Follow the jump to see the highlights of the People’s Budget, as put forth by the House Progressive Caucus.
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Jhwygirl asks the correct question over at Left in the West:

“Congress should be the decision maker? Not science?”

in response to Rob Kailey’s statement in his diary “Donald Molloy Maintains Judicial Integrity” yesterday:

“For the record, this judgment goes beyond a simple defense of wolves in the Northern Rockies. This was a defense of the federal separation of powers and the integrity of the judicial branch. So, the legislative efforts move forward, precisely as Molloy said they should or shouldn’t. That’s up to Congress, as it should be. “

For those who may not be following the story closely, on Saturday, Federal District Court Judge Donald Molloy ruled in a case involving an attempted Settlement Agreement between a coalition of organizations attempting to head off Congressional action over wolf delisting in Montana and Idaho.

That coalition included 10 out of 14 plaintiffs in a lawsuit that had been filed to challenge the way the federal government was going about delisting wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. The other 4 organizations refused to settle, believing that they had won important legal issues already, and were set to prevail on their Complaint challenging the way the government was proceeding with wolf delisting.

When those 10 organizations discovered that Senator Tester was going to do an end-around the court case by introducing a rider to delist the wolf in Congress, they decided to settle their case with the government as a way to obviate the need for the rider. And on Friday, they were relieved to find that most of the policy riders had been struck from the Continuing Resolution that had been agreed upon that would fund the government for another week.

But on Saturday, Senator Tester indicated that he had reattached his wolf delisting rider to the compromise 2011 budget agreement that is supposed to get worked out this week:
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(Reagan) Democrats are dancing in the streets! Headlines across the country proclaim: “All Sides Declare Victory” or “GOP Passes Largest Budget Cuts in History!”

Well, which is it? What really happened last night?

I guess because I’m really into self-immolation these days, it seems, I’m going to continue on with this series of articles on the Great Budget Battles of 2011™. I’ve been given fair warnings about casting assumptions, being self-righteous and pious (and a lot of other ugly things–hat tip to Rob and his brother moorcat), that I’m a “radical progressive” (which I take as a step up from our junior senator’s labeling of people like myself as “extremists”–thanks PW), but I take those aspersions as either a sign that I’m touching a raw nerve, or maybe I’m just a raw nerve that’s touched… whatever–that is to say, I have an opinion and a soapbox from which to shout it.

Ok, back to the question: what happened? Everybody came together and sang Kumbaya–the republicans gave up their policy demands, and 1/3 of their $61 billion in demanded cuts, democrats gave up a few billion dollars more, and won the fight for women’s health care… right??? (Or did the dems really just use women’s health issues as a way to ameliorate slashing other democrat-prized New Deal programs??? Or for Boehner to appease teabaggers as a way to force dems to agree to more cuts…but I digress, I didn’t want to delve into conspiracy theory here–that is lizard’s realm, and he does a damn fine job of it, I might add)

Well, no. We got 2 billion dollars in immediate non-discretionary cuts to the likes of high-speed rail transit money, HUD public housing funds, CDBG block grants, FAA airline safety–you know, things democrats like to cut in the name of “responsibly cutting the budget”–let’s just get the easy stuff out of the way first. But let’s not forget all the other budget cuts for the 2011 budget, that will bring the total to $78.5 billion… noooo.

But they got rid of the policy riders, right? Nope. They got some of them–like the Planned Parenthood defunding–out of this round, but in so doing they had to offer up-or-down votes on them in the senate (how many blue dogs are willing to go along with defunding PP…I wonder, and all the rest of the riders???). Oh, and rich Washington D.C-ians (and Congressmen, I assume–oops, there’s that “A” word again–bad writer, bad writer) got to keep their federally funded vouchers to send their kids to private schools. Nice. I wonder if they teach them about sex-ed and birth control, global warming or evolution there.

So where does that leave us? Very good question. I guess there’s another $37 billion in cuts to be worked out (I mean “fought over”–drama, drama drama…) before next wednesday, because, well, they just passed a Continuing Resolution till next week (actually, I think it was more that they decided to use the “KY Jelly” brand in their marketing of the deal, but that would be too nasty of me to say in mixed company), meaning another battle will be fought between now and then, supposedly with the parameters of that $37 billion somewhere agreed upon to finish the budget cycle. OK, just what is the agreement over those cuts??? I think we’ll begin to see that as the next phase of this drama begins to unfold.

I’ll end (sort of–I’m a glutton for punishment) by allowing John Nichols of The Nation do my dirty work for me, lest I be accused of falsely slandering democrats (though I still fully expect to be attacked, as it is easier to shoot the messenger than…):

“So who won the standoff? President Obama says the deal is good for the future, and that might make some Democrats think that he and the Democrats prevailed.

The one-week spending bill enacted by the House and Senate contains $2 billion in spending cuts to transportation, housing and community development programs.

A Senate Appropriations Committee review says that most of the $2 billion in cuts contained in the one-week bill come from a $1.5 billion slashing of the Federal Railroad Administration’s High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program. More cuts are achieved by hacking $220 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Fund. And research into making air travel safer and more efficient took cuts as well.

In other words, precisely the sort of programs that Democrats used to defend were slashed.

The Senate agreed to the one-week plan by unanimous consent.

Seventy House members opposed the bill. Of those seventy “no” votes, forty-two came from Democrats. They did not want a shutdown, as some of the GOP “no” voters did. But the dissenting Democrats said the cuts went too far.

They were right.

And we will need a lot more FDR Democrats to prevent the broader deal from becoming the greatest triumph yet in the GOP campaign to end the New Deal and bend the arc of history against progress.

They didn’t…”

Yes, a lot more FDR Democrats to tip the balance against the Blue Dog and resurgent Reagan Democrats that seem to be running the “grownup” wing of the Democrat party.

Update: Here’s how Ezra Klein described the whole rig-a-marole:

“The Democrats believe it’s good to look like a winner, even if you’ve lost”…

Right now, the economy is weak. Giving into austerity will weaken it further, or at least delay recovery for longer. And if Obama does not get a recovery, then he will not be a successful president, no matter how hard he works to claim Boehner’s successes as his own.

And Krugman concurs in “Celebrating Defeat:”

It’s one thing for Obama to decide that it was better to give in to Republican hostage-taking than draw a line in the sand; it’s another for him to celebrate the result. Yet that’s just what he did. More than that, he has now completely accepted the Republican frame that spending cuts right now are what America needs.

Nice… Austerians, what say you???
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Well, I enjoyed the discussion so much on my last post the other day, “Senator Tester Abdicates Role of U.S. Government to GOP in Budget Fight”–about Tester’s avoidance of framing the ongoing budget debate in any other terms than the following:

“Congress has an important decision to make this week: Either work together to responsibly cut spending and keep our government working, or refuse and let our government shut down.”

— that I decided to do another. And surprise, surprise, some folks aren’t interested in talking about how our politicians are–or are not–responding to the ongoing battle. People want to discuss how we need to cut the budget, and how austerity is an appropriate response at this time. And that everything is hunky-dory in our junior Senator’s office (can’t criticize the incumbent during a reelection campaign, now can we). Oh, yeah, and they wanted to throw insults. But I digress.

So today, the OMB released a list of policy riders to H.R. 1, which is the House bill that is being debated in Congress. I assume that those who want to “responsibly cut” either are going along with this list, or feel that they can gain some concessions from Republicans and their conservative/teabagger loony fringe.

it is easy to pretend to be the grownup in the room, doing what you think is right and necessary. But these folks are calling the shots. And the only tools the Democrats have right now are not ones they seem to want to use, or are uncomfortable with: 1) make the case that austerity economics is not the right thing to do now (which I agree with) and offer an alternative to cutting which is tax reform that lowers rates, reduces complexity, and raises revenue; 2) keep making concessions until the Republicans agree to pass their bill; 3) allow the government shutdown to occur, and let public pressure define who wins, and who has to concede the most.

Sure, there are some other avenues, some doable, some not. And I remind commenters that at this point in time politics is the art of the doable. So you austerians and “responsibly cut” folks should pony on up and let us know just how you can justify your position knowing that the Republicans are stuffing a very bitter pill down your throat along with your all growed up budget cuts.

So here is a short list from the OMB’s report on policy riders in H.R.1.

  • Restrict funding of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and defund the “consumer products complaints database.
  • Bans funding for the Department of Education regulations on Gainful Employment, as-yet-unpublished rules that would restrict federal student aid to for-profit colleges
  • Prohibits funding for the Wetlands Reserve Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act, the Weatherization Assistance Program or the State Energy Program, EPA efforts to regulate greenhouse gases
  • Defines specifically what greenhouse gases are and prohibits the EPA from imposing regulations on those gasses emitted by a stationary source for seven months
  • Prohibits funds for the Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) from moving forward with a proposed rule that would effectively eliminate the Stream Buffer Zone Rule, a rule that presently allows surface mining operations with qualified permits to work within 100 feet of a stream
  • Prohibits funds for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
  • Prohibits funds for the EPA to implement regulations to designate coal ash residue as hazardous waste
  • Prohibits funds for EPA to modify the national primary ambient air quality standards applicable to coarse particulate matter (dust)
  • Prohibits funding for the IRS to implement health care reform
  • Prohibits funding for sections of the Public Health Service Act
  • Prohibits funds to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., or any of its affiliates
  • Strips funding for any provision of the health care reform law, and associated agency actions
  • Prohibits funding for the Sustainable Communities Initiative
  • Prohibits funding for capital advances or rental assistance contracts for HUD Housing for the Elderly projects
  • Blocks funds for the Federal Communications Commission to institute Net Neutrality rules
  • Prohibits funds for the Community Connect broadband grant program administered by the Rural Utilities Service of the Department of Agriculture
  • Prohibits funding for carrying out section 19 of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act
  • Prohibits funds to pay the salaries and expenses of “czars,” or special presidential advisers who are not required to go through the Senate confirmation process

And there you have your short list. And these are the guys with whom you are willing to compromise to get your “responsible budget cuts”? This is like negotiating with terrorists, or kidnappers. Ready to make strange bedfellows with the right?

Jon Tester seems ready, judging by the op-ed he put out the other day. Or was that just a bunch of pre-election hot air meant to cast him in the grownup category?


This is a tough opinion to write. My goal here is not continually to bash Montana’s junior senator, but the buildup to the looming battle over the budget, complete with threat of government shutdowns and refusal to raise the debt ceiling, leaves me with no choice but to lay the political argument out on the table: what is the role of the U.S. government?

It is with this question in mind this morning when I awoke to Senator Tester’s new op-ed piece in my inbox. And of course, I was hoping that he would address the big question: what is it that we need from our government today? Particularly when Congress is so polarized between the conservative/teabagger alliance hellbent on tearing government down to an inefficient and meaningless puddle of tail-between-the-legs government employees propped up by the world’s greatest military, and a democrat rump party unable to craft a message about the appropriate role of government and a message to defend it and inspire people to value their government and rise up in opposition to this insanity.

I so wanted Senator Tester to live up to the promise that the Weekly Standard posed, in its front page cover and headline article asking the question of is Jon “The New Face of the Democratic Party?” Because the democratic party is in sore need of leadership able to craft a message and fight for the needs of Americans struggling to survive the Great Recession.

Turning to Tester’s op-ed, what are greeted with?

“Congress has an important decision to make this week: Either work together to responsibly cut spending and keep our government working, or refuse and let our government shut down.”

And with that statement, the battle was lost–them’s some real fighting words. Democrats, if Jon Tester is any indication, have already abdicated their responsibility, if this is how they choose to define the battle. And Denny Rehberg’s election committee must be laughing their asses off right about now. They won that round.

At a time when the GOP budget, as outlined by Rep. Ryan, has as its goal the abolishment of Medicare and Medicaid in 10 years what we need is a battle for the heart and soul of the democratic party, liberal policies, and progressive ideals. Instead democrats let the right define the terms of the battle, and the end goal: budget cutting at any cost.

There is nary a word in Tester’s words cutting to the right’s vulnerabilities in their quest, and they are multitude. Where the right gets away with labeling the Affordable Care Act as “Death Panels” democrats must be fine with the GOP proposing true death panels: turning the health care needs of the elderly, the disabled and the poor over to the private sector–which seeks only to profit off of their misery. Social Security privatization is right around the corner.

I could go on and on dissecting Tester’s op-ed, but my ulcer is already killing me. Suffice it to say that I view his words as opportunity lost, nothing more than a rearrangement of the chairs of the Titanic, that once majestic Great Society that has taken nearly 80 years to build, yet with one weakly challenged budget battle, will begin to unravel at breakneck speed.

Update: Paul Krugman just weighed in on this theme in “The Threat Within:”

“The great danger now is that Obama — with the help of a fair number of Senate Democrats — will kill Medicare in the name of civility and outreach.”

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