Budget agreement reached, sequester cuts partially rolled back

Paul Ryan and Patty Murray

After months of working through differences, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), chairs of the respective chamber’s budget committees, announced this evening that they’ve struck a two-year discretionary spending agreement that would avoid the prospect of another government shutdown.

The agreement, dubbed the “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013,” would spend $1.012 trillion in the current fiscal year and $1.013 trillion in FY 2015, according to a summary of the agreement. It will rollback $63 billion of planned spending cuts between this and next year. The funding measure will not tackle mandatory spending (ie. entitlements), nor does it raise the debt ceiling.

“I’m proud of this agreement,” Ryan said in a joint statement. “It reduces the deficit—without raising taxes. And it cuts spending in a smarter way. It’s a firm step in the right direction, and I ask all my colleagues in the House to support it.”

“This agreement breaks through the recent dysfunction to prevent another government shutdown and roll back sequestration’s cuts to defense and domestic investments in a balanced way,” Murray said. “It’s a good step in the right direction that can hopefully rebuild some trust and serve as a foundation for continued bipartisan work.”

Budget deadline approaches, some sequester cuts could be nixed

There is a lot going on surrounding the budget as Congress approaches the December 13 deadline for lead negotiators — Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), chairs of their respective budget committees — to reach an agreement, per the October deal that ended the government shutdown.

Republicans in Congress are, generally, ready to deal on the budget, one way or another, after the hit in the polls they took in October. But discussions current taking place between Ryan and Murray would undo tens of billions in sequester cuts, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal:

Lawmakers must still overcome significant obstacles, including last-minute pressure from Democrats seeking a renewal of expanded federal unemployment benefits and labor unions opposed to proposed cuts in federal employees’ pensions.

Still, officials close to the talks say that Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), chief negotiators for their parties, are closing in on a deal that, while smaller in scope than past budget deals, would mark a rare moment of bipartisanship in a Congress that has been lurching from one fiscal crisis to the next.

Filibuster change revives Obamacare’s “death panel”

Death Panel

Not only did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) give Democrats a convenient political distraction from the Obamacare meltdown, the “nuclear option” was also very obvious power grab that gives President Barack Obama virtually unchecked power to whomever he wants to his cabinet or to federal courts.

But the executive appointments that can now be made without any real check in the Senate are not just innocuous posts. Sam Baker of National Journal noted last week that the elimination of the filibuster gives President Obama the ability to make appointments to the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), otherwise known as “death panels.”

“The IPAB is technically supposed to submit its first proposed cuts in January, but Obama hasn’t even nominated anyone to the board yet. Nominees have to be confirmed by the Senate, which until today required 60 votes—and Republicans were highly unlikely to help confirm anyone to the board,” wrote Baker on Thursday.

“But now that the Senate has moved to a 51-vote threshold for executive appointments, Obama will likely be able to fill the board and move ahead with one of the most significant cost-control measures in his signature health care law—if he wants to,” he noted, adding that Senate aide confirmed that the filibuster change applies to IPAB.

Elizabeth Warren wants to expand an already broken entitlement

Elizabeth Warren

Social Security faces a long-term funding shortfall of $23.1 trillion, according to the most recent report from the program’s trustees, up nearly $3 trillion from last year. Like other entitlements, the program — expected to consume 6.8% of the economy by 2038 — is in dire need of reform to ensure its fiscal sustainability.

But Leftists in Congress are in denial about the fiscal problems with Social Security. Instead of reforming the program to ensure that it’s around for future generations, they want to expand it.

In a speech from the Senate floor on Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) endorsed legislation sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) to expand the fiscally shaky program and warned of, what she called, a “retirement crisis.”

“A generation ago, middle-class families were able to put away enough money during their working years to make it through their later years with dignity. On average, they saved about 11% of their take home pay while working,” Warren, who has been floated as a potential presidential candidate in 2016, told her colleagues.”

“Many paid off their homes, got rid of all their debts, and retired with strong pensions from their employers. And where pensions, savings, and investments fell short, they could rely on Social Security to make up the difference,” she said. “That was the story a generation ago, but since that time, the retirement landscape has shifted dramatically against our families.”

Howard Dean worries that Obamacare subsidies will drive up spending

Howard Dean

It’s no secret that Howard Dean, the former Vermont government who served as DNC chair, isn’t a fan of Obamacare. He’s frequently criticized the law, once calling it a bailout for insurance companies.

But during an appearance last week on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Dean expressed concern that the subsidies available for some who purchase coverage on the exchanges will increase federal spending. The comments came in an exchange with David Gregory about whether young people need to sign-up for coverage to make the math behind law’s promise of “affordable” coverage work.

“But, governor,” Gregory told Dean, “the White House officials who work most closely with this say what’s key to making it successful is to get the risk pools right.”

“David, I know they say that. I thought they were wrong from the beginning. This is the same consultants that put together Romneycare,” Dean replied. “They believed that, I don’t believe it. And I don’t believe it because I have 20 years experience in making this work. We can go into that another time.”

“The bottom line though is the next crisis here, assuming we get through all this is the tax subsidies,” Dean said. “It is going to make the federal budget more expensive.”

Chris Christie’s spending record should give conservatives pause

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) easily won re-election last night in the Garden State, defeating state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) by a 22-point margin, clearly a landslide victory.

Before he even sealed this big win, some establishment-types were gushing about Christie, hailing him as somewhat of a savior for the Republican Party, a title once bestowed on Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential nominee last year, made that proclamation over the weekend, telling Meet the Press host David Gregory that Christie “stands out as one of the very strongest lights of the Republican Party.”

Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at the conservative National Review, wrote on Monday that the New Jersey Republican’s campaign is a model for conservatives, contrasting it to that of the fledgling Ken Cuccinelli campaign in Virginia. The reason? Christie has stayed away from the social issues that have hurt Cuccinelli.

On that, Ponnuru is right. Social issues are becoming increasingly detrimental to Republicans, especially in purple states like Virginia, as public opinion on these issues has shifted notably.

Report: Misplaced priorities put national parks at risk

PARKED! How Congress’ Misplaced Priorities are Trashing Our National Treasures

The National Park Service came under intense scrutiny during the government shutdown after park rangers closed off open air monuments and forced people from their homes and businesses in an effort to make sure that average Americans felt the pain of the political stalemate in Washington.

Big Labor may make entitlement reform more difficult to accomplish

The already small chance of Congress passing any sort of entitlement reform in a budget agreement before the mid-December deadline may have gotten a little smaller thanks to a prominent labor leader.

In a speech before the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans on Monday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka promised that Big Labor would “never stop working” to end the careers of congressional Democrats who support entitlement reform.

“Let me just say this one for the record. No politician — I don’t care the political party — will get away with cutting Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits. Don’t try it. And this warning goes double for Democrats,” said Trumka, according to the Washington Examiner. “We will never forget. We will never forgive. And we will never stop working to end your career.”

For all the Democrats’ complaints about conservative groups and organizations making it difficult for Congress to get anything done, labor unions have long had a stranglehold on the party. Since 1990, Big Labor has given $751.8 million to Democratic candidates, which is 92% of their contributions. And in 2008, they worked heavily for then-candidate Barack Obama, who promised them their long-desired legislative goal, card check.

Citizens Against Government Waste: Runaway debt and deficits are #Shocking

CAWG -- The Text

The government shutdown may have come to an end and the debt ceiling may have been raised, but that doesn’t mean that the fight to rein in the United States’ runaway budget deficits and national debt are over.

Citizens Against Government Waste, a DC-based organization focused on reducing spending, has launched a series of edgy videos this week that they hope will raise awareness to the river of red ink still flowing from nation’s capital and the $17 trillion — and growing — national debt.

The first video, released on Tuesday, shows a salacious, perhaps indecent text message conversation between two people, before noting that the “size of government debt is shocking”:

The second video, released on Wednesday, shows reactions of shocked and appalled people, leading one to believe that bewilderment is because they’re discovering the size of the national debt for the very first time:

Yesterday’s video showed a bunch of filthy pigs feeding at the trough, a comparison to cronyism and greed of interests groups who far too often lobby Congress for a piece of the budgetary swill:

Obama knocks Republicans, bloggers in post-shutdown speech

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama told reporters on Wednesday evening that he’d have a lot to say about the government shutdown and debt ceiling following the House’s passage of the measure.

Boy, did he ever?

During a 20-minute speech on Thursday morning, President Obama spent a lot of time decrying “brinksmanship” and lecturing Republicans who opposed a spending measure that didn’t defund or change his signature law. He also took shots at groups and bloggers that oppose his administration.

“We know that the American people’s frustration with what goes on in this town has never been higher. That’s not a surprise that the American people are completely fed up with Washington,” said President Obama. “At a moment when our economic recovery demands more jobs, more momentum, we’ve got yet another self-inflicted crisis that set our economy back. And for what?”


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