|January 5, 2007|
||A New Day For Fiscal Discipline|
||Go Beyond The Headlines|
||Coffee and Donuts Not Included|
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During President Bush’s six years in office, he and Congress have taken an inherited surplus and have transformed it into a mountain of debt. “The budget outlook for the next decade is bleak,” according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). The Congressional Budget Office projects that “if the President’s tax cuts are made permanent and relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax is extended, deficits will average about $350 billion a year for the next ten years (2007-2016), even if the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan decline substantially in a few years.” CBPP found that legislation enacted over the last six years has increased the national debt by $2.3 trillion — including $633 billion in interest payments alone. (“In 2006, the federal government spent $1 out of every $12 on interest payments, or $227 billion. That’s more than we spend on education, housing, veterans’ care, and environmental protection, combined.”) Despite the grim picture, Bush practiced a bit of “me-tooism” this week as he promised to submit a plan to “balance the federal budget by 2012,” despite the fact that he has “never proposed a balanced budget since it went into deficit, never vetoed a spending bill when Republicans controlled Congress and offered little sustained objection to earmarks until the issue gained political traction last year.” “That’s shameless, even by local standards,” writes the Washington Post’s David Ignatius. Moreover, the President’s bloated budgets have reflected skewed priorities and have not stimulated economic growth. Today, the House takes up the goal of bringing fiscal discipline back to Washington with bills establishing “pay-as-you-go” budgeting practices and bringing transparency to the earmarking process.
PAYING AS THEY GO: The House today will vote on a rules change to mandate pay-as-you-go budgeting that will force “all tax cuts and entitlement expansions to be paid for.” The move would “represent a significant step toward a return of fiscal responsibility.” “While it would not guarantee that the President and the Congress act responsibly, it would represent a welcome recommitment to important principles: (1) that deficits matter; (2) that tax cuts, as well as spending, should be subject to budget constraints; and, (3) that budgeting requires careful consideration of tradeoffs.” (Yesterday, Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) introduced a bill to reinstate the Senate’s pay-go rules.) “I think honestly, public officials who want to spend money,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said on Hardball, “whether they want to spend money to defend America, spend money to invest in education, health care, the environment, law enforcement, they need to tell this generation that we need to pay the bill and not pass along to the next generation. I think that is a responsible way for public officials to act.”
SHINING A LIGHT ON EARMARKS: “Another area where we can work together is to reform the earmark process,” Bush said in another flash of “me-toosim.” The number of earmarks has exploded under his watch. In 2006, Congress allocated a record $71.77 billion “to 15,832 special projects, more than double the $29.11 billion spent on 4,155 pork-barrel projects in 1994.” These special legislative favors were at the center of several congressional scandals, including the corruption cases of Jack Abramoff and former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham. The House will vote on proposal today to shine some light on the practice. Specifically, the legislation will “require committees to disclose the sponsors of any earmarks included in appropriations…that benefits 10 or fewer” people. The rules would “prohibit trading earmarks for votes” and would require House members to “certify that they (and their spouses) have no personal financial interest in the request.” Also, committees would have to publish a list of earmarks and their sponsors when legislation is brought to the floor for a vote.
FOX PROPOSES HOW TO GUARD THE HENHOUSE: “We can balance the federal budget by 2012,” Bush wrote in his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, “while funding our priorities and making the tax cuts permanent.” But Bush hasn’t explained how and his tax cuts that have put the country is such a precarious fiscal situation. “Legislation enacted since 2001 has added about $2.3 trillion to deficits between 2001 and 2006, with half of this deterioration in the budget due to the tax cuts” — $1.2 trillion in total. In an effort to push for permanently extending unaffordable losses in revenue, Bush has claimed tax cuts pay for themselves. (“You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase,” Bush said last year.) Yet the claim is contradicted by both the historical record and Bush’s own economic advisers. A “dynamic analysis” by the Treasury Department found that even under favorable assumptions, the “small positive economic impact” of the tax cuts “would offset no more than 10 percent” of their cost.
IRAQ — MCCAIN CLAIMS HE BELIEVED IRAQ WAR WOULD BE ‘LONG AND HARD AND TOUGH,’ CONTRADICTING PRE-WAR STATEMENTS: Yesterday on MSNBC, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) claimed that he knew the Iraq war was “probably going to be long and hard and tough,” and that he was “sorry” for those who voted for the war believing it would be “some kind of an easy task.” “Maybe they didn’t know what they were voting for,” McCain said. (Watch the video.) In fact, during the run-up to war in 2002 and 2003, McCain repeatedly described the prospects of war in the rosiest terms, declaring the United States would “win it easily.” As early as Sept. 24, 2002, McCain said on CNN, “I know that as successful as I believe we will be, and I believe that the success will be fairly easy, we will still lose some American young men or women.” A few days later, McCain predicted, “We’re not going to get into house-to-house fighting in Baghdad. We may have to take out buildings, but we’re not going to have a bloodletting of trading American bodies for Iraqi bodies.” In Jan. 2003, McCain said on MSNBC, “[W]e will win this conflict. We will win it easily.”
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS — BUSH IGNORES LAW, FAILS TO APPOINT POLICY COORDINATOR FOR NORTH KOREA: Since President Bush has been in office, North Korea has developed 10-11 bombs worth of plutonium suitable for use in nuclear weapons, and conducted its first nuclear weapons test. All of the administration’s efforts to control North Korea’s nuclear program have failed. Congress decided something had to be done. On Sept. 30, 2006, Congress passed the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act, which required the President to appoint a Coordinator of Policy on North Korea to “provide policy direction and leadership for negotiations with North Korea relating to nuclear weapons.” Bush signed the act into law on Oct. 17, 2006. The law required Bush to make the appointment within 60 days. (View the relevant section of the law.) The 60 days were up on Dec. 16, 2006, which was 19 days ago. The situation in North Korea continues to deteriorate, but Bush still hasn’t acted.
HEALTH CARE — PAYING MORE, GETTING LESS: The U.S. health care system is in shambles. Health care costs are increasing faster than wages and nearly 47 million Americans — 8 million of whom are children — are uninsured. Millions more are underinsured. Yet the United States continues to spend more on health care per person than any other country, including countries that provide health care coverage to its entire citizenry. According to a new report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2003 alone, health spending per person was at least 24 percent higher than that of Luxembourg (the second highest spending country) and over 90 percent higher than countries considered global competitors. But unfortunately, our health care system spending is not buying us superior health. Americans, on average, die at a younger age compared to the average age of death of comparable nations and the U.S. infant mortality rate is 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births, while Japan and Sweden have rates below 3.5 deaths per 1,000 live births. Additionally, U.S. health care resources continue to lag. About 70 percent of deaths and health costs in the U.S. are attributable to chronic disease, which are largely preventable. Yet, only half of recommended preventive services are provided to adults. The United States also has fewer practicing physicians and nurses per 1,000 people than comparable countries. The Center for American Progress has a plan to provide every American affordable health care that emphasizes prevention, while controlling costs and maintaining individuals’ choice of doctors and plans.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joe Biden (D-DE) said yesterday that he believes top officials in the Bush administration — “maybe even including the vice president” — have “privately concluded they have lost Iraq and are simply trying to postpone disaster so the next president will ‘be the guy landing helicopters inside the Green Zone, taking people off the roof,’ in a chaotic withdrawal reminiscent of Vietnam.”
The expected replacement of Gen. John Abizaid with Navy Admiral William Fallon to oversee the Iraq war “reflects a greater emphasis on countering Iranian power, a mission that relies heavily on naval forces and combat airpower to project American influence in the Persian Gulf,” the New York Times report.
In its first legislative act, the 110th Congress voted 430-1 yesterday to approve “the broadest ethics and lobbying revision since the Watergate era.” Today, the House will vote on a package to end anonymous sponsorship of earmarks.
Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman “fired the head of the department’s nuclear weapons program on Thursday, citing a series of security failures at national laboratories, including the discovery of a computer device containing thousands of classified documents in the home of a former worker during a drug raid by the police.”
Yesterday, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) not only introduced himself to Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA), but also asked him out for coffee. “By reaching out to Congressman Goode I’m not trying to be accepted, I’m trying to build bridges. In this world there are too many misunderstandings. I want to put a human face on things,” explained Ellison.
With Zalmay Khalilzad headed to the United Nations, President Bush plans to appoint career diplomat Ryan Crocker to be U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. Crocker is currently U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan and is “among the State Department’s most respected voices in the Middle East,” the New York Times reports.
“New Orleans repeats mistakes as it rebuilds. … [W]hile new federal guidelines call for raising houses to reduce the damage of future floods, most returning homeowners do not have to comply or are finding ways around the costly requirement, according to city officials.”
And finally: Yesterday, Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) ascension to Majority Leader was almost overshadowed by former President Bill Clinton’s quest for a bathroom. Minutes before Reid was to be sworn in, Clinton “sauntered into the Senate press gallery in search of a urinal. Reporters swarmed, some abandoning their seats in the chamber. … ‘They told me the closest restroom was in the press gallery,’ Clinton explained.”