Tag Archives: recession

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.

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.

Reason for optimism

Optimist or PessimistA few months ago a certain head of a certain private SC university and Dew reader called me a “fatalist.” I’m not. I’m an American. Americans are always optimists. I’m just happen to be near the top of my personal bell curve of cynicism. It seemed at the time, for good cause, but not now.

A new study just out for 2009 says that despite the record unemployment, layoffs, furloughs, downsizing, off-shoring, Wall Street crash, real estate crash, and worst depression since Prozac was allowed to advertise on TV, it seems that millionaires in the US grew by 16% to 7.8 million and those whose worth is over $5 million was up 17%. The study goes on to project that the concentration of wealth, should it continue as it did during the Bush years, will have us looking like Mexico in 2048*. Now I know what you are thinking: that will solve the illegal immigration problem. See? I’m not a fatalist.

More statistics out: the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the number of unemployed workers age 55 and older jumped 70% in 2008 and AARP reports it has jumped 331% during the Bush years (from 2000-2009, the numbers rose from 490,000 to 2,114,000). Those in this demo know full well that their experience, work ethic and talents aren’t worth the cost of pension plans and health care anymore and that Walmart is always an option. Age discrimination be damned, seniors still have it better than convicted felons and those wishing to have an experience with an airline terrorist. See? I’m not a fatalist.

More statistics also from the Bureau of Labor Statistics… Men, it seems, have it worse when it comes to unemployment during this “worst recession since the really great one” at least percentage wise, than women. White men, it seems, have it worse, at least percentage wise, than black or hispanic men.** See? There’s no plot. The Bushies surely wouldn’t have done this on purpose. See? I’m no fatalist, this is a great step forward in narrowing the disparity of racial and gender unemployment rates.

Now I could go on with reports on foreclosures, credit card defaults, business closings, tax collections, and those who lost their health insurance, but that would be the type of tactic a fatalist would employ. Not me. I’m truly optimistic that the markets will correct and all will be just wonderful if we can only kill this health care bill; quit supporting the unemployed; stop the government regulation of banks and Wall Street; reform those torts which allow people to sue when their lives have been destroyed by our innocent corporations who are just trying their tiny little hearts out to employ as many people (in the third world) as possible; and, for gawd’s sake, get that deficit under control while cutting taxes and increasing highway and military spending. Oh yeah, and protecting marriage. And, supporting Israel. And, getting rid of that awful socialist program Americorp. And, of course, make everyone start carrying guns. And, protect that super minority rule in the Senate. And, well, I’d better just stop there, ‘cause I’m sure the markets will take care of everything for everyone.

Sarcastic, you decide.

_________
* Closer to us than 1970.
**Black men still have higher unemployment rates than white men, just the percentage increase last year was lower, which, statistically, is probably because it was sooooo friggin’ high already.