Tag Archives: jobs

2011: Did Nothing Congress

‘tis the season for retrospectives. That is not intended to be anti-Christmas, but so many of us aren’t participating this year, I’d just like to move on.

In some ways, 2011 felt like 1979 – just a preamble to 1980. An election year. A first term, Nobel Prize winning Democrat in the White House. Lousy economy. Bailouts in the news. Religious fanatics, conspiring with the Republicans to hold the country hostage. All we need now is an aging, former liberal Democrat, union member, once divorced, actor turned racist, anti-abortion, anti-welfare, anti-protest, NRA member, governor and serial presidential candidate, to step forward and take credit for turning the economy around, while increasing the size of government and national debt. Enough of looking back to the past, let’s get to looking back to the present.

America held hostageStarting with the hostage situation.

The Democrats in the Senate, led by Harry Reid, have a small majority, 51 to 47. As we know from our civic lessons, all a majority in the Senate gets you is a better selection of offices  – it takes 60 votes to pass anything. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, stated early on, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Using filibusters and secret holds, the Republicans have effectively shut down the Senate and any chance at ending the greatest depression since the invention of Prozac (aka: Bush’s Recession; Obama’s Economy; Why life sucks; Economic reality of the 99%). Time will tell if Republicans’ efforts to further destroy the American economy, combined with voter suppression and gerrymandering, will be enough to unseat this popular sitting president. We could, of course, just poll the “people” who will be doing most of the voting next year, corporate America, and we’d find out quickly how we are going to vote.

House Republicans of the 112th Congress are led by John Boehner and Eric Cantor and hold a solid majority, 242 to 192.

“The numbers: Republicans have introduced 44 bills on abortion, 99 on religion, 71 on family relationships, 36 on marriage, 67 on firearms/gun control, 522 on taxation, 445 on ‘government investigations,’ and zero on job creation.” – DailyKos

Politifact, don’t you just love them, corrected the DailyKos post, stating “In reality, then, six of these seven jobs-related categories included more bills than either abortion or marriage, and four of the seven included more bills than religion, family relationships or firearms.” (Author’s note: none of them passed.)

It is is little wonder that no polling company can find enough Americans who approve of Congress to cover the margin of error – currently about 5%.

“Congress is ending what may be its least productive year on record after government shutdown threats, the collapse of debt-reduction talks and little action to fix the worst U.S. economy since the Great Depression. Just 62 bills were signed into law through November this year, meaning that 2011 may fall short of the 88 laws enacted in 1995, the lowest number since the Congressional Record began keeping an annual tally in 1947.” – Bloomberg

“The latest Resume of Congressional Activity shows that from Jan. 5 through Nov. 30, 2011, the House of Representatives passed only 326 of the 4,191 bills introduced, the lowest number of bills passed in the last 10 non-election years. The Senate had its least productive year since 1995, passing only 368 of 2,336 bills introduced. “Bills” includes all forms of legislation, including bills, simple resolutions, joint resolutions and concurrent resolutions.” – Robert Longley

The combined annual expense to operate the House and Senate is about $5 billion. See if you think you got your money’s worth. Here’s everything they accomplished (bills passed both houses and were signed or expected to be signed by President Obama):

  • Extended the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act through May 31, 2011, then through June 30, 2011 (separate bills).
  • Named eleven post offices and two courthouses, while designating another courthouse under construction (separate bills).
  • Extended the Patriot Act until December 8, 2011 and added authority for roving electronic surveillance.
  • Amended the Continuing Appropriations Act to keep the government open through March 18, 2011, then through April 15, 2011, then through September 30, 2011, then through October 1, 2011, then through October 4, 2011, then through November 18, 2011, then through September 30, 2012. They also had to pass it one other time to include certain agencies they left off other times. (All, of course, separate bills.) In doing so, they also funded disaster relief, import restrictions from Burma, limiting loan guarantees, giving the USPS a reprieve from having to make a $5.5 billion payment to their pension fund, and, of course, each time, waiting until the last moment and cutting some agencies for no particular reason other than a lobbyist didn’t tell them not to do so.
  • Extended the Surface Transportation Act that funds highway construction from the Highway Trust Fund through September 30, 2011, then through March 31,2012, while adding some things the money could be spent on as long as it wasn’t mass transit, plus, for some reason, added money so mostly rich people could fly on charter jets from “under served” airports underwritten by the government.
  • Extended the Airport and Airway Extension Act through April 1, 2011, then through June 30, 2011, then through July 31, 2011, then through September 16th, then through October 31, 2011, etc. (each separate bills)- in one of the bills, they also limited an amount for which a victim can sue should they be attacked by a terrorist when an airplane is involved.
  • Repealed the IRS code removing the requirement to report purchases or rents of $600 or more; and increase the health care tax credit for people less than 400% of the poverty line in 2013. Later, they repealed a 3% withholding requirement on certain payments to certain vendors for certain payments somehow indirectly related to healthcare.
  • Funded defense department spending through September 30, 2011, then again, but this time buried in a continuing resolution, then finally… (see last bullet)
  • Appointed three people and reappointed another to the Smithsonian Board of Regents (separate bills).
  • Changed the date when the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act was to end to December 31, 2011.
  • Authorized appropriations for the CIA and other intelligence agencies through September 30, 2011.
  • Passed the Budget Control Act, which set up that crazy super committee to cut spending, but it didn’t, so spending will automatically be cut from defense and discretionary spending, but not Social Security or Medicare, after the next president takes office, unless Congress and the President change it first.
  • Restored GI Bill Fairness providing educational assistance for post 9/11 vets.
  • Amended the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act to apply the limit on lead in children’s products, while giving it greater authority, it also provided greater discretion for future administrations could undo it.
  • Passed Patent “reform” changing the patent award to the “first to invent” instead of “first to file” as long as the “first to invent” did so within a year of the “first to file.”
  • Re-authorized spending to combat autism.
  • Amended Title IV of Social Security Act to allow spending on study and assistance for children born to methamphetamine or living in abusive foster care situations, plus some other stuff, minus some other stuff.
  • Extended block grants to states for temporary assistance of needy families and related programs through December 31, 2011.
  • Authorized Department of Veterans Affairs to lease some office space, required them to audit some programs and extended authority to provide some services for homeless and mentally ill vets.
  • Extended duty-free treatment for goods brought in from certain countries, while also allowing states to change their rules so they could recover overpayment from Medicare.
  • Approved the USA-Korea; USA-Colombia; and the USA-Panama free trade agreements.
  • Extended the Parole Commission.
  • Clarified the jurisdiction of the Interior Department over the Cragin Dam and reservoir; clarified the authority of the Forest Service regarding allowing ski areas and collection off fees; clarified the provisions related to litigation against Federal officers, agencies or courts; clarified the appeal time in civil actions to which US officers or employees are parties, and directed the Interior Department to allow a special break for a water project in Utah (separate bills).
  • Amended the Veteran’s Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment to be consistent with Social Security COLA.
  • Authorized the Department of Homeland Security, I kid you not, to create “Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Travel Cards” that pay travel expenses for businesses in Asia-Pacific under the belief that is good for US economic growth.
  • Amended the Peace Corps Volunteer Protection Act to require sexual assault risk-reduction and response training and allow the establishment of victims advocates.
  • Amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow spouses and children of active-duty service abroad in the Armed Forces to petition for permanent resident status and not be deported while their spouse or parent was fighting one of our wars.
  • Authorized a Gold Medal to honor the Montford Point (NC) Marines for their service during WWII.
  • Authorized the vessels competing in the 2011 America’s Cup to represent USA.
  • And finally, they betrayed every American by passing the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2012. Buried in the bill to fund our troops, defense contractors and the rest of the military industrial complex, our leaders conspired to find a way to deny all of us our rights to due process. Our President, any of our presidents can now abduct you, ship you off to Guantánamo, torture you and detain you without charge or trial “until the end of hostilities.” The hostilities have gone on for more than a decade and few politicians, and even fewer lobbyists want this undeclared war to ever end. The bill does, however, specifically declare war on us and every other suspicious person in the world, wherever they are. Our President and our future presidents are required, yes, required to use military force on anyone who is a part, has aided or associated with anyone who has made a belligerent act against the United States or any of its partners. Be careful you don’t dial a wrong number or a missile from a drone may find your front door. Why, 10 years in to an undeclared war on a tactic, do we need to give presidents more power? If the war were to save liberty, we have just surrendered. Should you have the audacity of hope that the Supreme Court will overturn this? There is no reason to hope. The Supremes have always looked the other way on war powers and, recently, undeclared war powers. The only audacious hope in this bill is for President Obama to end all hostilities – please pray for peace on earth. While you are at it, pray that our President doesn’t decide Occupy is supporting hostilities.

Here’s some of what they didn’t or haven’t passed for 2011:

  • Any aspect of President Obama’s Middle Class Tax Relief & Job Creation Initiative. Especially,  the Doc Fix, passed every year for more than a half a century, and will mean that doctors and medical providers will receive 27 percent less beginning January 1, 2011 and causing all kinds of problems for providers and their patients; and the extension of the last year’s payroll tax cut or President Obama’s version – the result is a tax increase on everyone in the US making below $106,800 have a tax increase. The House passed a version addressing these issues wrapped up with a bunch of toxic partisan riders; the Senate stripped out all the partisan junk, which they said publicly that they would, shorten the bill’s effect to two months, sent it back to the House and adjourned until January; now Boehner & Company is pitching a fit – stay tuned.
  • Any aspect of immigration reform.
  • Most of the 200 Dodd-Frank rules protecting us from another Wall Street collapse.
  • Doing anything to help the millions of Americans in foreclosure.
  • Doing anything to correct the problem that prevent student loans from being included in bankruptcy.
  • Voting on 80 Federal Judgeships vacancies with 43 pending nominations including some positions that have been vacant since January of 2009, or 77 political appointments that had cleared committee, but were still under secret hold by Republican Senators.
  • Closing any of the corporate tax loopholes given to the wealthiest corporations.
  • Any positive movement to stop or reverse the offshoring of American jobs.
  • Any positive reaction to the horrible events around the world that should have led to common sense gun laws.
  • Any positive reaction to the Fukishima meltdown which should have led to common sense nuclear regulation – we are still building ours in Georgia.
  • Any positive reaction to the Gulf Spill that would lead to common sense laws limiting offshore drilling.
  • Any movement on decriminalizing, medical or otherwise, marijuana, which if anything, is a gateway drug to the prison system.
  • Any movement on tax reform, campaign finance reform, or affirming that corporations are not and never have been people.
  • Any movement on anything to do with the greatest threat to us all: man-made global climate change.

On to politics.

Relax, I’m not going to review the Republican circus, though I truly believe it would have been more fun and there would have been better candidates if Fox had sponsored it as, “American Political Idol” complete with Simon and toll-free numbers for weekly voting.

Ending on a more positive note, here are just a few of good things that occurred in 2011:

  • We didn’t invade Iran.
  • Occupy Wall Street for protesting “social and economic inequality, high unemployment, greed, as well as corruption, and the undue influence of corporations” (wikipedia) which has spread to hundreds of cities around the world.
  • Our troops have officially come home from Iraq – a serious reason to cheer – leaving only about 17,000-20,000 State Department personnel and their private and well-armed security forces.
  • Osama Bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi are no longer justification for war. Even Kim Jong Il is gone. They’ll have to find a new boogieman.
  • We no longer have to pretend Pakistan is our good friend, but have been reminded that every nation with nuclear capacity should be.
  • We haven’t caused serious harm to the “Arab Spring.”
  • Teapublicans were unsuccessful at shutting down our government or forcing us into default and causing a worldwide financial meltdown beyond our imagination – at least, so far.
  • We haven’t yet approved the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • The multi-trillion dollar bailouts have worked their magic as CEO pay finally shoots up another 36.5% last year.
  • Foreclosures have actually slowed down some in some states.
  • Some of the 13+ million long-term unemployed have joined the 10+ million who already stopped going to the unemployment office causing the unemployment rate to drop way down to 8.6% – look for more to stop looking next year as five million will lose their unemployment benefits and the rate could fall to 6 or 7% by election date.
  • The Euro hasn’t failed, yet, but has slipped enough against the dollar to make those in the 1% get to save big time on their next European vacation. Stay tuned, what Germany couldn’t do in war, they may soon do by banking.
  • Sara Palin, Jeb Bush nor Haley Barbour have yet announced their candidacy.

Happy holidays.

 

Update December 23, 2011; 8:51 AM EST: After wasted expensive days of politcal banter, threats, encouragements, puppeted talking points, invented distortions, face-saving attempts and the like, it appears that the Boehner (not pronounced boner) is going to allow the House to vote on the Senate bill authorizing a two month extension of unemployment benefits, the payroll tax cut and the docfix. The bill also would require President Obama and the State Department to make a decision on whether to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline, which is unlikely to be authorized, as the required studies by the EPA and the State Department will not have been completed in two months, but should allow the electioneering Republicans to point at the President as a job killer when, as expected and likely required by law, he rejects permitting. As an aside, there has been a majority willing to vote for this measure for some time. Boehner, however, did not want the bill passed by Democrats and reasoned Republicans who would split from the Teapublican caucus. This story will be updated again, once the bill passes or fails – or, when the author returns from holiday travel.

Live Thursday Night: Futility, the Series

Obama before joint session of CongressThursday night, our President will address a joint session of Congress to again ask Congress to take up emergency measures dealing with unemployment and the greatest economic crisis facing our nation in three generations. He asked to give the speech on Wednesday. Republicans said, “No.”

President Obama is expected to ask that Congress extend unemployment benefits for those fortunate enough to have had a job to lose when Bush’s economic crisis struck. Republicans are expected to say, “No, the unemployed need to get a job.”

President Obama is expected to ask that Congress extend a payroll tax cut for those fortunate enough to still have a job. Republicans are expected to say, “No, they just need to get a second job.”

President Obama is expected to ask Congress for a bill to rebuild decaying public schools, which will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. Republicans are expected to say, “No, not until we also subsidize rebuilding of Christian schools – wait a minute, we already do that – no.”

President Obama is expected to ask that Congress create an “infrastructure bank,” enabling states and local governments to pay for rebuilding decaying bridges and highways, creating thousands of jobs and keeping us all safer. Republicans are expected to say, “No, not until a Republican is in the White House.”

President Obama is expected to ask that Congress renew the gas tax, which funds highway construction and will save millions of jobs. Republicans are expected to say, “Once it expires next month, it would be a new tax and Grover won’t allow us to do that. We’ll just wait. Then, no”

President Obama is expected to ask that Congress renew FAA funding from landing fees, which will save thousands of jobs and increase safety for those wealthy enough to afford flying. Republicans are expected to say, “Maybe, if you outlaw unions. Otherwise, not until a Republican is in the White House and we outlaw unions.”

President Obama is expected to ask Congress for additional FEMA funding to help those affected by recent natural disasters. Republicans are expected to say, “Maybe, as long as you let us gut Medicare and Medicaid. Wait a minute, weren’t those disasters in blue states? We’re gonna need to gut Social Security, too.”

President Obama is expected to ask that Congress approve trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Columbia that have nothing to do with jobs, and likely will make things worse. Republicans are expected to say, “Maybe, just get rid of that human rights crap.”

President Obama is expected to make vague references to green jobs, investments in alternative energy and building a smart energy grid. Republicans are expected to say, “No way. You tried that and it didn’t work.”

President Obama is expected to remind Congress that tens of millions of Americans are out of work and need their help. Republicans are expected to say, “Liar.”

President Obama is expected to remind Congress that times are really tough, that action must happen now, and that the risk is global. Republicans are expected to say, “What world are you living in? Bring it on.”

President Obama is expected to ask that Congress end Washington political games and remind them that they were elected to help all Americans. Republicans are expected to say, “No, we weren’t.”

President Obama is expected to challenge all members of Congress to put country before party. Republicans are expected to say, “You have got to be kidding.” Democrats, on the other hand, are expected to say, “That all you got?”

Futility: my speech or my silence, indeed any action of mine, would be a mere futility. – Joseph Conrad

###

Update 090711:

What I’d like President Obama to Include:

  • I’d like him to deliver each initiative written and as a separate bill and hand it to the Speaker during the speech with a challenge of a debate and an up or down vote on each.
  • I’d like him to say that everyone in our country deserves a chance to pay taxes (click for more details), which means they deserve a chance to have a job and a living wage in order to do so. I’d like him to remind Congress of the grotesque waste each non-working American represents in terms of their and their families happiness and their productive contributions to society. I’d like him to challenge Congress to imagine what our country would be like and what great things we could do if 20+ million of us were working again.
  • I’d like him to announce a new deal: anyone unemployed can exchange their unemployment compensation – or their disability check – for a job paying at least minimum wage. Then I’d like him to ask Congress to allow it, fund it and include incentives for companies to keep them as permanent employees. Then I’d like him to announce the private corporations – for profit and nonprofit, who have agreed to honor it. I’d also like him to list the governmental agencies who also would – the park service, the military, VA, FEMA, EPA, etc., as well as states and municipalities. I’d also like him to ask for a similar program for our vets. And an extension of unemployment compensation for one time, to anyone who doesn’t, or doesn’t still qualify for unemployment compensation.
  • I’d like him to ask Congress to fund a free education initiative to teach or re-train our unemployed and underemployed workers about senior and preventative care; mental illness and substance abuse care and other important and costly needs our nation has. I’d like the Medicare and Medicaid rules amended to allow this new work force to help those who need help with in-home care.
  • I’d like him to ask Congress to fund a ten-year NASA-like program to find answers to our fossil fuel dependency – a private and public initiative where the patents would be owned by all of us. Then do the same to cure cancer and other horrible diseases.
  • I’d like him to ask Congress to open the Federal Reserve discount window to states and municipalities to use the money as they see fit – for industrial development, infrastructure and lend capital directly to businesses who will create jobs. Click for more details.
  • I’d like him to ask Congress to charter a new national bank – privately owned, but nonprofit, that could operate in all 50 states to provide consumer debt relief. The idea is simple – this new bank would contract directly with consumers and their credit card lenders that would allow anyone in the US to enter into a contract with the following provisions: 1) consumers must agree not to get into any more debt during the term of the deal; 2) consumers could combine all revolving family credit card debt into a single payment at a 2% interest rate and amortized over five years; 3) the new bank would contract with the credit card lenders where the lenders would freeze the accounts, immediately get the money owed, but the lenders will still have the risk of default until it is paid in full; the fees would pay for the cost of servicing the debt. Click for more details. I’d also like them to create a national mortgage company to do the same for people in foreclosure and help people stay in their homes.
  • I’d like him to ask Congress to re-write the tax system. Make it flat or flatter with deductions only for charity. Offer progressive standard deductions. Get rid of corporate income tax, but tax shareholder dividends as income. Likewise estate taxes. And most important, roll payroll taxes and Social Security into the rate. Click for more details.
  • I’d like him to ask Congress to allow any business that believes providing private insurance to their employees is to costly, to be able to buy-in to Medicare.
  • And, yes, I’d like him to ask for all of those things we expect him to, and those things people much smarter than me, would add.
  • Finally, I’d like him to ask Congress to reinstate the draft – require graduation from high school or require military or alternative service for those who drop out. Yes, this sounds crazy to be mixed in with jobs initiatives, but if we are going to have jobs for the next generation, we must find a way to keep our kids in school. Service is a much better alternative than lifetime poverty or prison.

I’d like President Obama to pull out all the stops. To think big. To use this national emergency to fix structural problems we have. To set us on a path for a better tomorrow. Almost none of this will cost taxpayers anything, but any costs in the short term could be covered by bringing our troops, and our private war contractors, from around the world home.

There are so many other productive things we could be doing instead of bickering about regulations, size of government, and how best to divide lobbyists’ campaign contributions. This should be a national referendum. One that decides who we are as country and whether anyone in office deserves to be in office, next year. Take the risk, please. Have the audacity. Do this, and maybe, I’ll forgive you for selling out our clean air by caving on the ozone rules – no, you need to fix that, too.

US to Shed 1.5 Million Jobs to Create New Recession

Right Wing Raising the DebtUpdate: 08.09.2011, 4:00 PM. President Obama has now signed the legislation to raise the debt ceiling and avert default. The bill immediately raises the debt ceiling by $400 billion. The additional steps that our country will have to endure to raise the debt ceiling for the balance of next year are described below. “Enough talk about the debt. We have to talk about jobs,” said Democratic Minority Leader, Nancy Peloisi.

Only two days remain in this season’s final episode of the made-for-cable-news mega-series drama, “The Right Wing – Raising the Debt Ceiling”*. The whole world is watching. Whose jobs will be lost? Whose fortunes, real, imagined, hedge, shorted or political, will be wiped out? Who will blink or tear up? Will the T-Party take to the streets or is just too damn hot? Will the golf partners stick to their “deal” for an entire news cycle? What will Sarah tweet? Will a deminted Senator sabotage it all with a last minute filibuster? Can Pelosi be turned to the dark side? Will S&P downgrade the credit rating anyway leading to higher interest and a need for even greater cuts? Will we do this again before Christmas?

The stranger-than-fictional leaders of our government have leaked elements of their surprising planned finale where they use this totally made-up crisis to solve the nation’s, and the world’s, great problems. The markets have already rallied in anticipation. As has the dollar. As have oil prices. The pundits, blogmeisters, and spin doctors have already picked the winners and losers. The bottles of sparkling tea have been chilled.

The drama couldn’t have been cast with a more exciting backdrop:

  • Two official wars (Afghanistan and Iraq), one official unofficial war (Libya), two well-known secret wars (Yemen and Pakistan), revolutions underway or being brutally suppressed in Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, on-going and potential conflicts in Palestine, Iran and North Korea, and chaos, famine and human tragedy in Somalia and the Horn of Africa;
  • An earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan that will continue for a hundred thousand years;
  • A massacre of white people by a white, right-wing Christian anti-muslim lunatic;
  • Worldwide recession with grave concern for the Euro zone, specifically Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Ireland;
  • A dismal 1.3% US GDP growth last quarter after only .04% first quarter growth;
  • The lowest percentage of Americans working in almost 30 years with 9.2% unemployment (20+% black unemployment) and at least 18.5% overall underemployment – more than 25 million Americans are out of work and glued to their TV sets;
  • More than 50 million Americans without health insurance;
  • 28% of US homeowners are behind on their mortgage, a backlog of six million US homes in foreclosure with more than three million homes already seized, and home prices continuing to decline;
  • Executive pay has risen 23% this year, plus, record earnings continue to be announced by our largest corporations – US companies have now accumulated and horded, depending upon who counts, $20-30 trillion in cash, while spending millions on lobbyists to whine about regulation, taxes and certainty;
  • The wealth gap continues to widen with whites now averaging 20 times the wealth of blacks, 18 times the wealth of Hispanics;
  • US worker productivity is at an all time high, yet real wages are lower than they have been in 41 years;
  • Federal, state and local taxes are the lowest per capita since 1954;
  • The number of government workers has gone down more than 500,000 since Obama took office;
  • And, it is hot, though not officially from global climate change even though the northern hemisphere is trying to endure a record-breaking heat wave.

For those who may have missed an episode, ignore the backdrop (above) – the crisis in America is clearly our deficit. With total government revenues, as a percentage of our economy, at their lowest level in more than 60 years, obviously, the only answer is to cut government spending.

The announced plans include an immediate $400 billion debt limit increase (whew) and $900 billion in spending cuts over the next 10 years. These cuts will be from the annual appropriations of the day-to-day operations of Cabinet agencies (specific cuts will be determined by the Appropriations Committee after annual lobbying and whining by each agency and their related lobbyists), but largely the cuts will be from capping projected inflation-adjusted increases. These cuts do not include Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

Another $500 billion debt limit increase would be allowed later this fall, which Congress could only disapprove, which President Obama could veto, which Congress could overturn by a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate (I’m not making this up).

A third installment of debt limit increase of between $1.2 and $1.5 trillion would be available after enactment of the recommendations on November 23, 2011 by a 12-member super Congress (also to be announced) of three members from each party and each chamber.

The super Congress’s report to the mortal Congress could include tax code changes, maybe even revenues, and changes in any other program – including Social Security, Medicare, Pentagon spending. All dependent upon an up or down, no amendments allowed, vote in Congress on December 23, 2011.

Should super Congress not agree (how likely is that?) or the mortal Congress does not act on the recommendations, we’ll face the poison pill of across the board spending cuts to be implemented by the White House including cuts to the Pentagon, domestic agency budgets and farm subsidies… beginning in 2013, after the next Presidential election. However, Social Security, Medicaid, veterans benefits and military pay would not be subject to cuts.

Oh, yeah, the House and Senate are also required to vote, but not pass, which they won’t, a balanced budget amendment to our Constitution. The bill will establish at a cost of $1 billion, a “program integrity” initiative in an attempt to stem abuses in Social Security and federal health care programs. This bill will also preserve Pell Grant funding for 2012-2013 by cutting student loan subsidies. Go figure.

This is one terrific plan.

“The result would be the lowest level of annual domestic spending since Dwight Eisenhower was President,” said President Obama in announcing the deal. “Now, this process has been messy; it’s taken far too long… We’re not done yet.”

“I know this agreement won’t make every Republican happy. It certainly won’t make every Democrat happy,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

“Now listen, this isn’t the greatest deal in the world. But it shows how much we’ve changed the terms of the debate in this town… There is nothing in this framework that violates our principles. It’s all spending cuts. The White House bid to raise taxes has been shut down. And as I vowed back in May – when everyone thought I was crazy for saying it,” said Speaker of House John Boehner (R-Oh.).

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, “I would say … that symbolically, that agreement is moving us to the point where we are having the final interment of John Maynard Keynes… So here we are in the horns of a dilemma. In order to avoid the disaster that would occur August 2 if the United States defaulted for the first time in its history, we are being told we have to cut back on government spending and by cutting back on spending, we may also have a negative impact on our economy.”

The head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, (D-Mo.) called it “a sugar-coated Satan sandwich.”

Over time, the combined cuts should add about 1.25 million to our unemployment rolls, and could bump unemployment over 10%. The cuts in spending will almost certainly turn our anemic GDP growth into negative numbers putting us back into official recession – this time, an official bipartisan recession. But don’t be fooled that the impact will stop there. The cuts will have dramatic impact on every state. Those laid off will be teachers, law enforcement and regulators. Food and medical care will be cut for our poorest children and their families. Transportation and infrastructure spending will also be cut.

When the series continues, we’ll get to watch who is to blame. How gerrymandered districts will make things even more partisan? How the T-party will get revenge on Boehner? How Obama will seek to mend fences with his base? And how all, but a few of us, will continue suffering and electing these fools? I wish I could change the channel.

 

*A sequel to the popular series, “The West Wing.”

Note: This story was updated at 5:45PM, August 1, 2011 to correct details once the bill was announced.

Pledge to America: the cliff notes

The long awaited sequel to Newt Gingrich’s 1994 “Contract On America,” is out. Here are cliff notes. A summary of sorts inspired by Cliff Hillegrass’ original, but written for the lemmings expected to be led and fall from the cliff.

Overall:

Republicans pledge to reconnect with their version of the “permanent truth” of long-buried, rich, slave-owning white men – none of whom were Baptist – who lived in a time before indoor plumbing, electricity, automobiles, telephones, television, internets, rights for women or people of color, automatic weapons, predator drones, polling, political action committees, Republicans, Democrats, citizenship, elections, Wall Street, public libraries, credit cards, corporations, health insurance, retirement plans, banks, dollars, and the life expectancy was about 30.

Republicans pledged to offer a “plan,” rather than an “agenda.” They announced their firm patriotic pledge to be against uncertainty, red-tape factories specifically located in Washington, D.C. (other color tape factories and those red-tape factories in other areas are apparently just fine) and people not working. They reaffirmed their pledge to listen to the minority mob at this critical time when those elected by the majority don’t seem to be listening to Fox.

Based on the 50 photos in their 48 page pledge, they are also pro-cowboy hats and are really really pro-white people – only one person of color was shown, John Boehner who is orange.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs:

They believe our economic problems are caused by heavy hands, a dead economist, and the continued cowardice of business owners. They believe the Democrat bill that provided the largest middle class tax cut in history, revenue sharing to the states to keep schools open and teachers and police on the job, and investments to rebuild roads and bridges that put construction workers back to work should have been cancelled.

They pledge to put people back to work by not spending money and definitely not hiring them by the government. They believe that it is critical to give people making so much money that they couldn’t find enough tax dodges and have to report over $250,000 in earned income a 3% tax break. They believe the Republican initiative to save Wall Street has caused investor uncertainty, but that if Wall Street has to obey the rules, they won’t take risks and our economy won’t trickle on middle class and poor people.

They pledge to end the deficit by permanently not raising taxes, giving more tax deductions to corporations, repealing the requirement for corporations to report expenses over $600, and requiring an act of Congress for almost any new business regulation. The Republicans pledge “put us a path to balance the budget and pay down the debt” by immediately cutting $100 billion from the stimulus bill that would have been used to buy American products and hire Americans to rebuild decaying public buildings and bridges. They pledge to go back to the Clinton-era, Obama-endorsed, pay-as-you-go strategy on new spending, except in the cases of unexpected emergency Republican spending such as highway funding, new subsidies for agriculture, more fighter jets built in Republican districts, etc. They also have pledged support of Obama’s plan to re-privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Healthcare:

They pledge to immediately repeal healthcare reform and replace it with common sense, allowing HSAs to be used for anything in a drug store, getting rid of state regulation of health insurance companies, and, of course, tort reform. No mention of the 50+ million Americans who don’t have health care coverage. They also pledge to discontinue the federal prohibition on abortion funding and replace it with a prohibition on abortion funding.

Government Reform:

The Republicans pledge a requirement that every law carry a Congressional version of a Bush signing statement – just a little something to clarify intent which can be used before the Supreme Court or campaign contributors. The idea is that regardless of whether the bill is constitutional, if they say it is, and the President signs it, they agree on intent, which should put the judiciary on proper unconstitutional notice not to disagree.

They pledge to require that all bills be posted 72 hours before a vote as the Democrats already do. The theory is that it will give Rush, Glenn and Sarah more time to alert the radio, cable and tweetisphere to alert the people to alert the pollsters to alert the staff to alert our leaders how to vote.

They pledge to require that at any point in the process, any legislator can offer an amendment to reduce spending and send the bill back to a committee to restart the never ending process which should, once and for all, mean that Congress will never pass another bill while a black man is in the White House. If that doesn’t work, they also pledge to make sure measures are passed “one at a time” rather than bundling a critically important-to-K-Street bill with other bills not considered important by Republicans. And if that doesn’t work, they also pledge to put an expiration date on all federal programs to coincide with election years including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, but plan to save Social Security by cutting benefits until it is so unpopular that we won’t want it any longer.

They particularly are against big government, but pledge no specific size goals. They are also pro-accountability and transparency, which is code for, “we can’t wait to start the inquisition of Obama.”

Security:

Not much here. I suppose they got to their page limit. They pledge to pass a “Clean Troop Funding Bill,” I know it sounds as if the Republicans are anti-dirty troops, but they aren’t. The pledge is totally meaningless except to provide some cover should they fail on other pledges and have to pass a military funding bill that includes bridges to nowhere.

They also pledge to “demand an Overarching Detention Policy” to prevent those illegally detained by our government anywhere in the world, but especially those in Guantanamo, from having a fair trial, to fully fund the fully funded Star Wars missile defense shield, even though it is still illegal by treaty and will never work, but Reagan wanted it, and they reiterate their dislike for Iran and immigrants, but pledge no specifics of how they are going to make their lives worse.

Energy:

They pledge they are for domestic energy production and against cap and trade, but pledge no specifics and certainly didn’t pledge anything to address global climate change or new energy sources.

The complete 48 page Republican “Pledge to America” can be read here.

Earning Impunity

Goldman Sachs had revenues of $13.4 billion last year not including the $10 billion in bailout money. Without admitting wrong doing for helping former Treasury Secretary now hedge-fund billionaire Hank Paulson bilk investors by packaging and selling toxic mortgages designed to fail, Goldman has agreed to settle civil fraud charges for an amount equal to about two week’s revenue, $550 million, plus $1.3 million for lobbying and politicians. Were Goldman Sachs the first and last name of a person, they would be in jail and pennyless. As a corporation, their stock went up over $3 billion after the announcement.

BP takes in $240 billion a year. It might spend a month’s revenue to hire Ogilvy PR, cap, clean up, and pay lawyers to settle the lawsuits related to 11 wrongful deaths, hundreds of thousands of toxic exposures, destroyed business and ruined lives. BP will get most of their fix, clean up and settlement money back in US tax breaks and subsidies – payback for spending $3.5 million lobbying and bribing US politicians. Were BP a person instead of a corporation, the business would be shuttered and they would be in jail on an oil and water diet awaiting trial.

GlaxoSmithKline’s Avandia drug makes them a lot of money – $3 billion in 2006, but down to just $1.6 billion since everyone learned what GSK always knew, but wouldn’t say – that Avandia treats diabetes by causing heart attacks and killing people. Of course, Avandia is just a drop in the $100 billion GSK annual revenue bucket. Potential total liability for payouts to those GSK killed or maimed: $1.1 billion. Annual bribes to politicians to keep being able to sell this deadly crap: $7 million. Were GSK a person instead of a corporation they would be awaiting death by lethal injection of one of their products.

Toyota makes automobiles which work so well, some just wouldn’t stop. The company knew it, didn’t fix it, resulting in the death of at least 37 people. Toyota, which has annual revenues of over $200 billion, finally got caught. It will cost Toyota shareholders a few billion for the recalls and to settle the lawsuits. Annual lobby and political bribe budget: about $5 million. Were he not hidden behind corporate immunity, Mr. Toyota would have fallen on his sword. Instead, sales went up 48%.

Bayer has revenues of over $49 billion and makes a heart surgery drug called Trasylol. Trasylol has caused the kidney failure and agonizing death of an estimated 22,000 people since 2007. So far, Bayer has spent about $97 million to settle, plus $1.4 million purchasing political protection from our elected leaders. Corporate or not, Bayer’s history of human experiments dating back to those it conducted at Auschwitz, suggests it will not be held accountable.

Massey Energy mines and sells coal for $2.2 billion a year. Since 2005, they have been cited for safety violations over 1,300 times, culminating in April with the death of 29 miners in West Virginia. The law suits are expected to cost them almost half their income, plus less than $20,000 to make sure they don’t have to actually operate safe mines or pay fines. Were Massey owned by Don Blankenship rather than run by him, he’d be buried in coal by now.

Whether your company is making pesticides in Bhopal, an insurance company denying claims, an airline wishing to cut maintenance costs, bilking the Pentagon out of billions during wartime, or just the world’s largest bank wishing to screw us all, you are special. Just buy a politician and say, “jobs.”

It is legal in our society for a corporation to kill thousands of people. If a country did it, the leader would be called before the Hague. If a person did it, they’d be called a terrorist and killed by a drone. It is better to be a CEO.

Is it just me, or do we sell our politicians too cheaply? Of course, keeping the price of our politicians down is good for corporations. Just not people.

To see who is buying whom, at what price, go to OpenSecrets.org

Incredibly high fictitious cost of health care

Health care reform doesn’t go into effect for 3 more years, so why is it costing really really big businesses so much right now? In the last month, company after company has announced quarterly earnings and included huge accounting charges for health care costs.

Companies announcing charge offs for health care costs
“Why? For what? And should we be scared shitless?” Glad you asked. First off, except for exercising their Supreme Court given right to paid free speech, which resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on lobbyists to fight the health care reform bill, it hasn’t cost big business a nickel. Nothing. Nada.

Here’s what has happened. Way back in 2003, under Bush/Cheney, the brain trust in charge of our government at the time, decided to add a prescription drug benefit to those on Medicare. You probably wondered at the time, “what the hell do Republicans care about seniors?” Me, too. I knew they were having a difficult time squandering the Clinton budget surpluses so they could begin starving the states, so the states, in turn, could begin starving the poor. Plus, Bush Inc. had already paid off the campaign money they’d gotten from the super rich, the oil cartels, defense contractors and Wall Street. But they still owed big health insurance, big pharma and big business and thought they might be able to buy some senior votes in Florida, so they hatched this scheme: establish a huge new subsidy to create a private for profit prescription drug insurance plan industry to buy hundreds of billions of dollars of pharmaceuticals at non-negotiable retail and provide a tax subsidy to big business to help them get rid of workers at or nearing retirement age (Medicare Part D) – a real win-win. Even got Ted Kennedy to vote for it. Except for the donut hole, a diabolical stroke of campaign genius that must have Lee Atwater wish he could have come back from hell to enjoy it. But I digress.

The 2009 law gave big business a 28% tax deduction on retiree, or early retiree drug benefits, but it was more than just another corporate tax loophole. It was a tax-free treatment of the government subsidy to pay for companies providing the equivalent of Medicare Part D – the law gave them a subsidy and let them also deduct it from their taxes. Technically, accountants, lawyers and Adam’s house cat* refer to this as “double-dipping.” Republicans and the Chambers of Commerce refer to this as “pro-business.” When the new health care reform law goes into effect in three years, the subsidy will continue, but the tax deduction big business got for spending the subsidy will end.

snake oil“Then the tax deduction was worth billions of dollars?” you might ask. No, not by a long shot. In fact, the loss of the deduction will have almost no affect at all on company valuation or profit, but they’d like us to think it does. The explanation of how they came up with such extravagant numbers and why now, is a wee bit technical. Here goes: accounting rules require companies to recognize the present value today of future cash costs for as long as they offer the drug benefits and make this adjustment by writing down the deferred tax asset balances. Another way of saying it would be, they can pick any number they want and they can do whenever they want. These announcements are big businesses’ way of attempting to influence the off-year elections with the hope that the next Congress will give them back the deduction, which they don’t really use, doesn’t have any impact on jobs, but they are greedy and like to have more of whatever they want than they would ever need and don’t mind scaring the bejesus out of us as sport.

“But these tax deductions were real, so there’s a real cost to the companies’ investors, right?” In most cases, no. Big companies don’t pay taxes in America . That’s why we have those island governments just off our shores. According to the GAO’s most recent data (why it is so old, I have no idea, but I’m guessing that it has something to with providing political cover to those who write tax law), shows that two-thirds of US corporations paid no federal income taxes from 1996 through 2005 (those include the Clinton boom years) and 94% paid less than 5%.

So tomorrow when you read, “Company X earnings down due to health care reform costs,” just smirk and turn (or click) the page.

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*A variation of “Adam’s off ox.” The form commonly used is ‘not to know one from Adam’s off ox,’ meaning to have not the slightest information about the person indicated. The saying in any form, however, is another of the numerous ones commonly heard but of which no printed record has been found. But in 1848 the author of a book on ‘Nantucketisms’ recorded a saying then in use on that island, ‘Poor as God’s off ox,’ which, he said, meant very poor. It is possible that on the mainland ‘Adam’ was used as a euphemistic substitute. The off ox, in a yoke of oxen, is the one on the right of the team. Because it is the farthest from the driver it cannot be so well seen and may therefore get the worst of the footing. It is for that reason that ‘off ox’ has been used figuratively to designate a clumsy or awkward person.” From “A Hog on Ice” by Charles Earle Funk (1948, Harper & Row).

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Note: the post was edited on 4/23/10 to correct a stupid error of fact in paragraph 3. The original post, referred to “George Herbert Walker Bush” which was fortunately caught by alert reader/writer/commenter, Cliff Green.

It's the stupid jobs bill, stupid

It's jobs, stupid!Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. Washington’s focused on them like a laser. Yesterday, Harry Reid (soon to be former Democrat Senator from Nevada and current Majority Leader), announced the revised Senate bill designed for bi-partisan appeal and to help create the nine plus million jobs needed to offset just those that have been lost since the worst depression since the great one began.

The cost of the total package, according to estimates released by Reid, would be about $15 billion over 10 years. This is what he said was actually in the bill (I’m not making this stuff up):

  1. A payroll tax holiday that would waive the 6.2% Social Security tax for any employer who hires a worker who has been out of a job for at least 60 days. In addition, the bill would provide a $1,000 income tax credit for every new employee retained for at least 52 weeks.
  2. A tax break that would allow businesses to write off up to $250,000 in capital investments in 2010 rather than depreciating the costs over time.

Waiting for more? That’s it. Yeah, really. Nothing to help re-capitalize small businesses, which have historically pulled us out of economic doldrums and been the hiring engine that could. Nothing to spur consumption. Nothing for expansion. Nothing for training. Nothing to get the banks lending to business. Nothing to help with the crippling, double digit health insurance premium increases that have been announced. Nothing to help create jobs of those hardest hit groups or regions.

In fairness, there are other versions of the bill. One of those versions had bi-partisan support, an $85 billion price tag, extended unemployment benefits and would subsidize interest on bonds for local infrastructure products (a more expensive version of nothing). Reid pretty much squashed that.

They take this stuff really seriously up in Washington. This is their answer? Somebody get me a tea bag.