President Barack Obama appears to have ignored the Democrats’ decision to pass on pushing through a budget and decided to make a move on his own.
Obama’s recently unveiled $3.9 trillion budget would raise more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years and increase spending $56 billion above statutory caps in the next year alone, which means that the President did not consider the spending caps both the White House and Congress agreed to last year before he decided to unveil his plan.
During a Budget Committee hearing yesterday, Sylvia Burwell, Obama’s White House Budget Director, seemed to struggle to answer Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) question regarding the president’s budget proposal. While Obama’s plan would increase spending, Burnwell refused to answer Sessions when asked whether the budget would allow more spending than what had been already agreed to previously when the President signed the Ryan-Murray budget.
According to the Budget Director, “there are some questions that are not simply Yes or No questions.” Her justification and defense of the new budget proposal ignores the budget already signed by the president. When asked if she wanted Congress to change the Ryan-Murray budget so that the increased spending proposed by Obama would then become a possibility, Burnwell also struggled to respond.
Coming out of a brutal series of losses in last fall’s fiscal fights, budget hawks are facing tough odds.
Some commentators have gone as far as to say that fiscal restraint has been defeated in Congress, with the heyday of 2010 giving way to a situation in which those who want to cut spending and reign in looming deficits and debt have taken a “back seat.”
Have deficit hawks finally been defeated? Is big spending the new norm?
Not if a cadre of Texas candidates has anything to do with it.
On Monday, the Coalition to Reduce Spending announced that 14 candidates for federal office from across the state had signed the Coalition’s Reject the Debt pledge ahead of Tuesday’s primary. The pledge requires elected officials to (1) consider all spending open for reduction, (2) vote only for budgets with a path to balance, and (3) offset any new spending with cuts elsewhere.
The signatories include Tea Party favorites like Katrina Pierson and Matt McCall, in a diverse scattering of candidates from across the state. The Coalition has also been in touch with various third party and Democratic challengers and expects more candidates to jump on after the primary.
“Washington won’t change until we change the incentives of the people we send there,” Coalition President Jonathan Bydlak said. “Candidates have to hold themselves accountable, or we have to do it for them. I’m pleased to see this group willing to hold themselves to fiscal restraint.”
By this time, if you follow politics at all, chances are you’ve heard a lot about the farm bill. Passed Tuesday, this bill represents nearly $1 trillion in new spending, with typical promises for paltry reform over the next decade.
At risk of presumption, the problems with the farm portion are rather obvious. It’s no surprise that 85% of economists from across the ideological spectrum oppose farm subsidies. It seems commonly accepted that the “farm bill” long ago ceased to be a temporary relief for struggling family farmers and has instead become a hefty bonus check for some of the biggest corporate agriculture. For example, the richest farmers get the most subsidies, and just three firms received the most in sugar subsidies last year. And Tuesday’s bill did little to address these issues.
A program so misguided is easy to attack. But unfortunately, the farm portion is a very small part of the “farm” bill. And the other part backs people who want to save the next generation from massive debt into quite a tough corner.
As the partial federal government shutdown enters its second week, the calls for a “grand bargain” to solve all and sundry income and revenue issues have returned. The idea that Congress should pass a single, all-encompassing budget, even a balanced one, is a collective mental plague spread by inertia that must be eradicated.
Congress has not passed a full budget to fund the federal government since April 2009. Since then, unable to reach a deal on a full budget, spending has been controlled by successive continuing resolutions, adjusting total government funding levels for short periods of weeks or months each time.
Many say we have to be responsible and pass a real budget. But the truth is the concept of a single federal budget is actually pretty new. While the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 created the first federal budget process, it wasn’t until the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 that the current version of mandatory budget proposals and resolutions was adopted. For the 150-200 years before that, all federal funding was appropriated with specific bills for programs or departments.
Throughout her campaign Elizabeth Colbert Busch has fashioned herself as a candidate devoid of any ties to a party or agenda. Despite her opponent, former governor Mark Sanford, insisting she holds an allegiance to the left, Mrs. Colbert Busch has remained steadfast in her approach. In a race replete with negative ads and the typical disdain for corruption, partisanship and business as usual, what has not been discussed is what actually defines an independent.
The appeal to the politically-homeless and disenfranchised is commonplace and to be expected; particularly in the current political climate where even head lice is more popular than Congress. Needless to say, appearing to be a rebuke against the establishment is more crucial now than ever. The primary goal of the Colbert Busch campaign has been to capitalize on this bourgeoning cynicism.
To her credit, Mrs. Colbert Busch drove this point home early in Tuesday’s debate saying, “I will take that tough, independent business woman—independent business career and I’ll go to Washington with the help of all of you.”
Sanford would question this statement early and question it often. Citing on several occasions the amount of funding Mrs. Colbert Busch had received from the Democratic left, he stressed his concern that such financial support would not come without expectations. To this she replied, “No one tells me what to do except the people of South Carolina’s 1st District.”
Whenever people call for cutting the military budget, the usual response goes something like ”How can you keep the Army from getting the equipment it needs to fight wars?” Well, the problem with that response is highlighted today by this story from ABC:
Lawmakers from both parties have devoted nearly half a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the past two years to build improved versions of the 70-ton Abrams.
But senior Army officials have said repeatedly, “No thanks.”
It’s the inverse of the federal budget world these days, in which automatic spending cuts are leaving sought-after pet programs struggling or unpaid altogether. Republicans and Democrats for years have fought so bitterly that lawmaking in Washington ground to a near-halt.
Yet in the case of the Abrams tank, there’s a bipartisan push to spend an extra $436 million on a weapon the experts explicitly say is not needed.
“If we had our choice, we would use that money in a different way,” Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, told The Associated Press this past week.
Why are the tank dollars still flowing? Politics.
Keeping the Abrams production line rolling protects businesses and good paying jobs in congressional districts where the tank’s many suppliers are located.
If there’s a home of the Abrams, it’s politically important Ohio. The nation’s only tank plant is in Lima. So it’s no coincidence that the champions for more tanks are Rep. Jim Jordan and Sen. Rob Portman, two of Capitol’s Hill most prominent deficit hawks, as well as Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. They said their support is rooted in protecting national security, not in pork-barrel politics.
So the sequester approached like the screaming meteor of Chelyabinsk, startling everyone and convincing most to run for the hills, to grab cans of green beans and ammo to survive the coming collapse in society…only for it to pass by as just another oxygen particle, sucked up into our collective noses.
As everyone on Capitol Hill flailed around with their messaging (“Oh jeez, maybe we shouldn’t have hyped that up after all…”) Mike Riggs at reason noted that the OMB report summarizing the cuts to government, as part of the sequester, included cuts to an agency that no longer even exists. Curious as to what other nuttery there may be within the report, I’ve decided to make it the centerpiece of this month’s edition of 7 on the 7th, where I list 7 agencies, offices, departments, programs…whatever…that we should cut from the federal government. Here, we have them being trimmed in a very tiny, minuscule way….why not gut them entirely?
1. Capitol Police (And the Mint Police. And the FBI Police. And the….)
The first item I came across in my look was the Capitol Police. The Capitol Police are the men and women who guard the literal US Capitol, where Congress meets, and the National Mall (where sadly, the only products are overly expensive hotdogs and legislators) I’m not saying their job is unnecessary, but when you walk around DC, you see things. Like…we have a Capitol Police. And a Mint Police. And an FBI Police. And a Smithsonian Police. And the Federal Protective Service. And….
In two days, the sequestration axe will either drop, or it won’t. Personally, I am about as close as you can get to the situation, and I have no idea how it will turn out. While the “national security” argument against sequestration was gradually left behind, the arguments against the cuts have become increasingly economic in nature. These arguments are problematic at best and disingenuous at worst.
A while back, I proposed a couple of ways to gradually cut more than sequestration does, therefore creating less pain in the current fiscal year; but as dieting often fails, cutting swiftly might be the only surefire method to actually cut spending. Putting the cuts into perspective, as George Will did in his article this weekend, $85 billion from a $3.6 trillion budget, or 2.3%, is miniscule. The “draconian” cuts merely return us to 2006 levels.
I have been advocating deeper cuts for some time now, and as a defense contractor, am prepared to lose my job as a result (although I don’t expect to). I will try to be as objective as possible herein as I offer a couple of personal thoughts as we draw closer to the actuality of sequestration:
It was a mere tweet, but it summed up the entirety of the modern conservative movement:
Sequestration Cuts the DHS Off at the Knees herit.ag/WUTzw8
— Heritage Foundation (@Heritage) February 21, 2013
It has everything: the source is the preeminent conservative “think tank” in DC, soon to be headed by Tea Party conservative and former senator Jim DeMint; lamenting about spending cuts; the laments are all about a government department that by all rights should not exist; and for good measure, it has a photograph. It shows precisely how the sequester had torpedoed conservative credibility.
We have heard relentlessly these past five years, ever since Obama was elected, that we need to cut spending. (Indeed, another Heritage article is a dorky little bit that specifically notes a “thrifty” House which demands that they have a balanced budget and avoid deficits.) Yet now that there is something which will cut—no, sorry, I can’t type that with a straight face; it will not cut spending, but merely slightly decrease the rate of spending—Heritage is up in arms about it.
Meanwhile, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Military Contractors) wrote the following in an op-ed:
Read these paragraphs and see if you can figure out who wrote them:
The Federal minimum wage has been frozen at $3.35 an hour for six years. In some states, it now compares unfavorably even with welfare benefits available without working. It’s no wonder then that Edward Kennedy, the new chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, is being pressed by organized labor to battle for an increase.
No wonder, but still a mistake. Anyone working in America surely deserves a better living standard than can be managed on $3.35 an hour. But there’s a virtual consensus among economists that the minimum wage is an idea whose time has passed. Raising the minimum wage by a substantial amount would price working poor people out of the job market. A far better way to help them would be to subsidize their wages or - better yet - help them acquire the skills needed to earn more on their own.
An increase in the minimum wage to, say, $4.35 would restore the purchasing power of bottom-tier wages. It would also permit a minimum-wage breadwinner to earn almost enough to keep a family of three above the official poverty line. There are catches, however. It would increase employers’ incentives to evade the law, expanding the underground economy. More important, it would increase unemployment: Raise the legal minimum price of labor above the productivity of the least skilled workers and fewer will be hired.
The idea of using a minimum wage to overcome poverty is old, honorable - and fundamentally flawed. It’s time to put this hoary debate behind us, and find a better way to improve the lives of people who work very hard for very little.
Guess? Guess? Hmm? Give up? All right then, the individual who wrote this was…