Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Scary Stuff

This below post titled "No Compromise" is from my friend Marc Schulman's blog "The American Future" (http://www.americanfuture.net/).  It truly is scary stuff. 

No Compromise

When I was growing up, I pledged allegiance to the United States of America. Not so for 40 of our senators and 115 of our representatives, who are co-sponsors of this pledge:
I pledge to urge my Senators and Member of the House of Representatives to oppose any debt limit increase unless all three of the following conditions have been met:
  1. Cut – Substantial cuts in spending that will reduce the deficit next year and thereafter.
  2. Cap – Enforceable spending caps that will put federal spending on a path to a balanced budget.
  3. Balance – Congressional passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — but only if it includes both a spending limitation and a super-majority for raising taxes, in addition to balancing revenues and expenses.
A list of the sponsoring senators and of upwards of 100 sponsoring organizations can be found here. Sponsoring representatives are here.

The Cut, Cap and Balance coalition isn’t happy with Speaker Boehner’s plan:

The Cut, Cap, Balance coalition understands that bipartisan leadership is under extraordinary pressure to present a proposal this week. We applaud the Speaker’s commitment to avoiding tax increases on job creators as part of an increase in the debt ceiling.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appears perfectly willing to continue the classic Washington parlor game of promising spending cuts now that will likely never materialize . . . Cut, Cap and Balance is not merely a legislative framework, it is a series of principles.  Principles are not subject to negotiation.  Unfortunately, the Speaker’s plan falls short of meeting these principles.  Perhaps most troubling is the proposed Congressional Commission.  History has shown that such commissions, while well-intentioned, make it easier to raise taxes than to institute enduring budget reforms. Additionally, a symbolic vote on a balanced budget amendment at some later time minimizes its importance, as it will not be tied to an increase in the debt ceiling. A BBA [Balanced Budget Amendment] that allows a tax increase with anything less than a 2/3 supermajority is not a serious measure. The fact remains there is only one plan that has passed the House with bipartisan support that will permanently end America’s debt problem and that is the Cut, Cap and Balance Act.  This Coalition is willing to sacrifice much in return for a permanent solution to this issue, but we will not sacrifice the fundamental principles of CCB.  To be clear, we are not criticizing the Speaker; however, we cannot support his framework, and we urge those who have signed the Pledge to oppose it and hold out for a better plan.

No compromise. Come hell (a default) or high-water (a credit rating downgrade).
While we've all been reading and hearing about the Cut Cap and Balance plan, I had no idea they are this organized, and that there is a "pledge" involved, and I hadn't seen a list of who had signed the pledge.  Links in Marc's post share that information. 

I'm not surprised to see that Florida's Tea Party Senator Marco Rubio has signed.  (Our other senator, Bill Nelson, is a Democrat - whose seat is at risk in 2012.)  My own Congressman Connie Mack (R) has not - but that's because he doesn't think it is conservative ENOUGH!  He announced his opposition to Cut, Cap and Balance in a July 16 press release titled "Mack Opposes GOP Led Cut, Cap and Balance Legislation If It is Tied to Debt Ceiling Increase."

I agree with Marc.  Scary stuff....

For more information:

Monday, July 25, 2011

We MUST do as the President asked...

Again tonight, the President took to the bullypulpit, this time asking directly - in a televised address to the nation - for our help in breaking the current gridlock in Congress over the debt ceiling.  In his remarks tonight, he said:
If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your member of Congress know.  If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message.
Whether you've done so already or not, it's important to email your representative in Congress tomorrow (Tuesday) in response to the President's request.

I know it may seem futile, but our elected officials MUST hear from US and not just the paid lobbyists and big money PACs!  Please take a minute and write your Congressman.  Then let me know that you’ve done it - and PLEASE forward this email to everyone you know!  Thanks.
For more information:


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Time to act - we’re running out of time

Today was the President’s deadline for reaching an agreement so legislation could be passed and signed into law before the debt ceiling is reached on August 2nd.  But once again, talks between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner fell apart.  

Here's what the President offered, as he explained at his 6:06 PM press briefing this evening:
Essentially what we had offered Speaker Boehner was over a trillion dollars in cuts to discretionary spending, both domestic and defense. We then offered an additional $650 billion in cuts to entitlement programs -- Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. We believed that it was possible to shape those in a way that preserved the integrity of the system, made them available for the next generation, and did not affect current beneficiaries in an adverse way.
In addition, what we sought was ... $1.2 trillion in additional revenues, which could be accomplished without hiking taxes -- tax rates, but could simply be accomplished by eliminating loopholes, eliminating some deductions and engaging in a tax reform process that could have lowered rates generally while broadening the base.
.... We were offering a deal that called for as much discretionary savings as the Gang of Six. We were calling for taxes that were less than what the Gang of Six had proposed. And we were calling for modifications to entitlement programs, would have saved just as much over the 10-year window. In other words, this was an extraordinarily fair deal. If it was unbalanced, it was unbalanced in the direction of not enough revenue.
Here's what he said the Republican rejection means:
Now, if you do not have any revenues, as the most recent Republican plan that’s been put forward both in the House and the Senate proposed, if you have no revenues at all, what that means is more of a burden on seniors, more drastic cuts to education, more drastic cuts to research, a bigger burden on services that are going to middle-class families all across the country. And it essentially asks nothing of corporate jet owners, it asks nothing of oil and gas companies, it asks nothing from folks like me who’ve done extremely well and can afford to do a little bit more.
In other words, if you don’t have revenues, the entire thing ends up being tilted on the backs of the poor and middle-class families. And the majority of Americans don’t agree on that approach.
We're running out of time, and the people WE elected to represent us aren't getting the job done.

Have they heard from you yet?  

Take a few minutes RIGHT NOW and tell your representatives in the House and Senate what you want them to do. 

Here’s the message I emailed to Florida Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, and Representative Connie Mack: 
Topic:   Budget
Subject: Raise the debt ceiling now!
I am extremely disappointed with Washington's inability to reach agreement on a way to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default on our obligations.  I urge you to work with the President to achieve a deficit-reduction package that includes both revenue and spending cuts, and raise the debt ceiling this week.  Please - stop this gridlock in Washington.
Feel free to use this message, or compose your own.  The important thing is to flood Congress with emails this weekend.

Then let me know that you’ve sent your three emails.  Thanks!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

An optimistic assessment by James Fallows' Reader DM

Last month, James Fallows of The Atlantic wrote a piece titled "Least Valuable Player: Rep. Eric Cantor." It got some press.  He followed it this past Wednesday with "More on Rep. Cantor as Least Valuable Player" and on Saturday with "Rep. Cantor Wrap-up for Now:"  From Saturday's piece:

[A] long message from a reader who sees signs of hope in the budget standoff, in Obama's eagerness (as a Democrat) to propose budget cuts even as the economy heads back into recession, even in the recent news that the Administration is cutting back on various clean-energy projects. I am not convinced, but because you probably have not seen this case made very often, I offer it for consideration. 

Reader DM writes:

I've lost my sense of despair about Obama and the debt/deficit, social security-medicare discussions, because I think I know what he's doing.  When he first entered office, one of the things he stated as a specific goal was to solve the long-term structural deficit problem he inherited. His inaugural address included admonitions that we had to get serious, that we had to step up, and that people, all people, had to sacrifice, to fix what was broken; and it also included strong chords of hope that America had what it takes to fix it.

Look- he first jumped on Republican legislation to set up a pre-emptive deficit commission, and the Republicans ran away. He then set up his own deficit commission, and all of Congress ran away.  And now he has taken the Republican stupid-assed, testosterone addled attempt to hold the debt ceiling hostage, and has judo-thrown them into forcing a discussion of the very problem that they've been purportedly complaining about.  He is using their own two-faced complaints about the deficit (they aren't interested in the deficit; they are interested in undoing the New Deal, which are two very different things and he's called their bluff and making them look very, very stupid), and presenting them with a very sound, very practical, very compromised, totally solid proposal to deal with the long-term structural deficit, which any Republican four years ago would have leapt at, and which contains the very broad-based sacrifices that he promised in his inaugural address.

This is Obama accomplishing one of his principal campaign goals; because politically he can't do anything to stimulate the economy, or, germane to your Mountaineer post, can't commit the government to long-term strategic investment in carbon capture and the global environment, until he gets the structural deficit under control.  If he succeeds in his big picture deficit plan, he'll go into 2012 having tamed the long term deficit.  He'll be in a position to lambast the Republicans and hopefully, gain more control of Congress, and, when he's reelected, he'll have a powerful mandate to pursue his more adventuresome and long-term beneficial programs. It'll take a few more years, but he's  a long-term strategic thinker, and I think he'll get us there. The Republicans look like a lot of power-addled men who are really out of touch with the electorate.

I'm now very optimistic; and, particularly if he succeeds, then with his 2nd term programs, perhaps the economy will recover to the extent that he can re-instate the things he cut before such time as the cuts actually take effect. Because, as we all know, with the long-term structural deficit fixed, if the economy were back to the size it was before 2007, we could have our cake and be eating it too.  You go, Barack. Sir.

PS:  And won't things be looking very different after 2014 when we will all have affordable health insurance. God knows I'm having to put off a lot of things because I can't afford to deal with them now....

Fallows concludes, "It is indeed pretty to think so. And perhaps this will turn out to be true."

Interesting.  Can you get to that kind of optimism along with DM?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Like watching a soap opera

Following what's going on in Washington these days is like watching a soap opera.  It goes on and on, and it's annoying and frustrating.  But I'm hooked on the drama and can't stop watching.  If you, too, are hooked (despite yourself), you might want to subscribe to the "First Read" daily email from NBC News.

Here's an excerpt from today's titled "Always Darkest Before the Deal:"
With the clock ticking on debt ceiling, the news appears grim. Moody’s says it’s reviewing a possible downgrade of the government’s AAA bond rating. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke warned of financial calamity if the debt ceiling isn’t increased. And at yesterday’s White House meeting to find a resolution to the legislative impasse, President Obama clashed with House Minority Leader Eric Cantor. But as we said during the looming possibility of a government shutdown in the spring, it’s always darkest before the deal.

*** Obama vs. Cantor: As for yesterday’s Obama vs. Cantor clash, it ISN’T striking that it happened; after all, these players have to be plenty frustrated by now. But what IS striking is that Cantor went directly to the press to tell his version of the story. After yesterday's meeting, Cantor recounted telling the participants that there would have to be multiple debt-ceiling increases to get through Nov. 2012. “Well that's when [Obama] got very agitated seemingly and said that had sat there long enough and no other president, Ronald Reagan wouldn't sit here like this, and that he's reached the point that something's gotta give,” Cantor said, per NBC’s Frank Thorp. “And he said to me, ‘Eric, don't call my bluff.’ He said, ‘I'm going to the American people with this.’” After that, Cantor says Obama got up and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” (And they meet again today at 4:15 pm ET.) There are a LOT of folks on all sides of these talks who believe the group is too big and that too much leaks out or simply gets read out, which is why there is speculation the president asks them all to come to Camp David (keep them from cameras).

*** Dems push back: Democrats dispute Cantor’s version of events. One Democratic aide said Cantor’s story was overblown. “For someone who knows how to walk out of a meeting, you'd think he know it when he saw it. Cantor rudely interrupted the president three times to advocate for short-term debt ceiling increases while the president was wrapping the meeting.” 

*** Cantor’s isolation: What has become increasingly clear is that Cantor has become the person to watch in this entire debate. He’s either the Tea Party hero or scapegoat. Or both. He also has become isolated -- even within his party. There’s Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who told conservative talk-radio host Laura Ingraham yesterday that Republicans are at risk if there’s a default. "You know, it's an argument he has a good chance of winning, and all of a sudden we [Republicans] have co-ownership of a bad economy," McConnell said. "That is a very bad positioning going into an election." And GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said that Republicans should be open to increasing revenues. As Politico writes, “Cantor has a lot riding on the outcome of the debt-limit negotiations. He’ll share in the public blame if they fall apart and the economy tanks, and he’ll face recriminations from his conservative base in the House if he cuts too soft a deal with the president.”

*** The three options to a resolution: Despite yesterday’s conflict, you can still see the making of a deal. And there are essentially three paths to a resolution. One is the somewhat maligned but viable McConnell “Hail Mary punt,” which would only deny the president’s request for a debt ceiling raise if veto-proof majorities in BOTH houses of Congress disapprove of the request. Two is the cuts the members of the so-called Biden group came up with (Cantor is among the advocates of this route). And three, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pushing the idea of creating a binding congressional commission to handle either tax reform, Social Security reform, or both (modeled after the Social Security reform commission of the ‘80s and a little bit from the military base closing commission in the early ‘90s). The commission recommendations would NOT be subject to any alterations by Congress and instead would only be subject to an up-or-down vote.

*** How you still get to the grand bargain: Per one Democratic leadership insider, pieces of all three contingency plans could turn into the "grand bargain." For instance: You get a significant amount of cuts from the Biden group (think $700 to $800 billion) to get a six-month raise in the debt ceiling. Also included would be the binding Reid commissions to tackle tax reform and entitlement reform. They’d have, say, three months to get tax reform done and six months to get the entitlement reform done. Whatever they agreed to would be subject to the up-or-down vote, and if tax reform got enacted, then it would be linked to another large chunk of cuts (the rest of the Biden cuts, plus maybe more). And as a failsafe, the McConnell concept on the debt ceiling would also be part of the deal if both tax reform and entitlement reform failed. To be clear, the above plan is not being considered right now. It’s more of an example of how convoluted the eventual roadmap to a deal is going to be.
Looks like compromise may be coming.  Obama's getting mad.  (Yay.)  He's doing regional press interviews today at 2PM ET (hat-tip: Politico Playbook daily email), which give him the opportunity to "take it to the people."  Eric Cantor seems to have gone too far and is starting to alienate his own Party.  (It's about time.)  And time is running out. 

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An update from Erika Ramirez

In Mean-spirited Neapolitans, I wrote last month about several Naples residents’ reactions to a letter to the editor of the Naples Daily News. Erika Ramirez, a high school junior, needed to raise about $2,500 on top of the 50% scholarship she was awarded in order to attend the Junior Statesman Foundation Summer School at Princeton University.

Several of my readers shared my dismay at the mean-spirited responses (you can see their comments here if you scroll to the bottom of the page) and some said they, too, wanted to help.

I’m pleased to report that Erika was successful in raising the money.  The program began this week and will run through the end of the month.

Here’s the update I received today from Erika:

I am happy to inform you that I am on campus. I want thank you again for taking the interest in my story. Well I am loving the constitutional program.  It is just amazing and fulfilling. My typical day starts at 8 am with class till 11 then lunch followed by an afternoon session till 2:30. In the evenings I have a debate class for about 2 hours. I will have to write a 12-15 page paper on a constitutional issue and also present a debate on a topic followed by 3 shorter debates. I'm sorry I took a while to [let you know] but as you can imagine I'm swamped with reading and research. Best wishes for you and thank you once again.

-Erika Ramirez 

I’m so pleased to know we were able to help Erika get to Princeton.  I plan to stay in touch with her and hope she’ll send me a copy of her paper.  If she does, I’ll share it with you!

It’s nice to know that sometimes it is possible to make a difference in someone’s life!