Posts tagged with 'federal budget'

Weekly Audit: Government Shutdown Averted, But At What Cost?

Posted Apr 12, 2011 @ 10:44 am by
Filed under: Economy     Bookmark and Share

Creative Commons, Flickr, PhotoOptikBy Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Congressional leaders and President Barack Obama reached an eleventh hour budget deal on Friday night, to fund the government for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year and avert a government shutdown for the time being.

The deal would cut about $38 billion, Amy Goodman reports for Democracy Now!, including $13 billion in cuts to the Department of Health, Labor, and Human Services.

John Nichols describes the nuts and bolts of the stopgap plan in The Nation:

The arrangement worked out Friday night averted the threatened shutdown with a two-step process. First, the House and Senate passed a one-week spending bill that addressed the immediate threat. That should give Congress and the White House time to finalize a fiscal 2011 spending deal—on which they have agreed in principle—before an April 15 deadline.

The Republicans will not be allowed to zero out Planned Parenthood. Instead they were allowed a separate, largely symbolic vote, which passed the House, but which is expected to die in the Senate.

Planned Parenthood and ACORN

Nick Baumann of Mother Jones argues that the deal is a case study in the priorities of the Democratic Party. At the last minute, congressional Democrats rallied to save Planned Parenthood. The venerable family planning organization was under fire because of an undercover video sting by Lila Rose, a onetime protegee of conservative propagandist James O’Keefe, who himself pulled a similar stunt against the anti-poverty, pro-voter registration group ACORN in 2009.

O’Keefe’s videos created a media firestorm and Congress rushed to de-fund ACORN with little protest from Democrats. Subsequent independent investigations revealed that the tapes had been deceptively edited. Vindication came too late for ACORN, which was forced to close its doors.

Baumann argues that Democrats spared Planned Parenthood and sacrificed ACORN because ACORN didn’t have friends in the right places:

Abortion rights affect everyone. But to put it bluntly, big Dem donors care a lot more about abortion rights than they do about community organizers in inner cities.

Specious “victory”

In the days leading up to the deal, the media created the expectation that the budget was a game that one party would “win.” Paul Waldman of The American Prospect argues that in his eagerness to declare “victory” in the budget showdown, President Obama is undermining his own political agenda.

It would have been nice if when announcing the budget deal, President Obama had set aside the politician’s natural inclination to declare victory and his own preference for casting himself as the adult who settles things between the squabbling children. He could have said something like this: “The deal we just made is preferable to a government shutdown, which would have been truly disastrous. But nobody should mistake it for anything but the tragedy it is. As a result of the cuts Republicans have forced, people who rely on government services will suffer, and the economy will lose jobs. The Republicans held the government hostage, and we had no choice but to pay the ransom.”

By rushing to champion the spending cuts, Obama may be saving face, but he’s also setting a precedent that will make the next round of cuts even easier. The truth is that Democrats conceded under duress, they didn’t volunteer to cut spending because they thought it would help the country.

Indeed, Democrats agreed to far more cuts than the Republicans initially asked for. Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks argues that the Tea Party and the ostensibly more mainstream Republicans set up a very effective good cop/bad cop negotiating strategy in which the Democrats would offer cuts and the mainstream Republicans would say, “I’d like to help you, really I would, but you know my partner isn’t going to like that.”

Corporate taxes

Joshua Holland of AlterNet explains how corporate American has successfully lobbied to shift an ever-increasing share of its tax burden onto the backs of individual citizens:

Well, consider this: in the 1940s, corporations paid 43 percent of all the federal income taxes collected in this country. In the 1950s, they picked up the tab for 39 percent. But by the time the 1990s rolled around, corporations were paying just 18.9 percent of federal income taxes, and they forked over the same figure in the first decade of this century. We – working people – paid the difference.

Something to think about as we prepare to file our income tax returns.

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Weekly Audit: Republicans Poised to Declare War on Welfare State

Posted Dec 21, 2010 @ 12:16 pm by
Filed under: Economy     Bookmark and Share

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Flickr, Thomas Hawk, Creative CommonsSenate Republicans scuttled a bipartisan $1.2 trillion dollar spending omnibus bill last week. Now, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is scrambling to pass a temporary funding bill to keep the federal government’s lights on.

The GOP abruptly pulled the plug on the omnibus, a massive piece of legislation that Republicans and Democrats had collaborated on for months. Why? Because the Republicans want to start over in the next session of Congress when they will control the House and pick up seats in the Senate. They intend to rewrite the spending bill with much less Democratic input. In other words, bipartisanship proves once again to be a racket.

War on the welfare state

At Truthout, economist Dean Baker offers some predictions on what Republicans have in mind for the 112th Congress. The Bush tax cut extensions that passed with great fanfare are supposed to be 2-year extensions. However, Baker asks why we should expect that the GOP will allow the tax cuts to expire? (more…)

Weekly Audit: Time to Shake Off the Bank Lobby

by Zach Carter, TMC MediaWire Blogger

While the national economy struggles under the weight of a massive bank bailout effort, the banking lobby’s ability to influence public policy is more problematic than ever. The too-big-to-fail bankers may be dependent on U.S. taxpayers for their survival, but corporate lobbyists still have members of Congress, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve asking the banks’ permission to bring the Big Finance behemoths under control. The relationship between Wall Street and the government is so out of whack that it’s difficult to distinguish the political players from the panhandlers.

In Mother Jones, Daniel Schulman and Jonathan Stein detail the ease with which important congressional staff switch careers and move into the banking sector. In recent years, dozens of key staffers for powerful Senators have left the political arena to work for as lobbyists for the financial sector, and policy gurus from both sides of the aisle are jumping ship for lucrative careers as influence peddlers on Wall Street.

“Financial firms seeking big bucks and favorable terms from Congress and the White House are deploying Capitol Hill aides turned lobbyists to win favorable treatment from the congressional lawmakers,” Schulman and Stein write. Many lawmakers, including Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn., are refusing to disclose whether they’ve had contact with former staff who now work for Wall Street. Small surprise, then, that so many of the recent bailout packages have allowed failed bank CEOs to stay in power and saved their shareholders from bad investments in inept, even predatory, companies.

Sometimes these reinvented bank defenders are even former Senators. Susan Douglas of In These Times highlights the career of former Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, who is currently a lobbyist for UBS. The Swiss banking giant has been plagued by a seemingly endless stream of scandals over the past year, for everything from diamond smuggling to tax fraud. And Gramm helped push for looser predatory lending laws—including those pertaining to the now-decimated mortgage sector—while he on the UBS payroll.

This would be a shameful legacy for any former public servant, but for Gramm, Douglas notes, this behavior is particularly disgraceful: his two chief legislative “accomplishments” helped create and intensify the current financial crisis. Gramm co-authored the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, which compounded the financial world’s too-big-to-fail problem by letting traditional commercial lenders like Bank of America and Citigroup buy up riskier, unregulated investment banks like Merrill Lynch. Gramm then pushed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 through in a midnight budget amendment, a tactic which made sure that “credit default swaps” were not subject to either securities regulations or gambling laws. Just eight years later, credit default swap gambling destroyed insurance giant AIG, to the dismay of taxpayers everywhere.

When lawmakers stop cowing to the bank lobby and start answering to their constituents, the result is a big boost for the entire economy. Last week, committees in both the House and Senate dealt the credit card industry a rare defeat by approving bills that crack down on abusive credit card billing practices. Even though Sen. Dodd insists keeping his lobbying contacts a mystery, he is capable of crafting responsible legislation. The bills were introduced by Dodd and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., but still face major uphill battles clearing the full House and Senate.

As Harry Hanbury details for the American News Project, conservative lawmakers and bank lobbyists are already hard at work watering down the legislative language to ensure that it will not actually curb any abuses if enacted. Take a look:

The bills would ban dozens of billing gimmicks that are as outrageous as they are common, including raising interest rates on credit card debt after it has been accumulated and hiking rates due to completely unrelated activity, like returning a library book late. The banking industry deploys a lot of clever words to mask the predation inherent in the tactics, and most common of all are the terms “price according to risk” and “risk-based pricing.” These phrases make it sound as if all the poor little credit card companies want to do is set interest rates at levels appropriate for a borrower’s credit profile. Of course, that’s not what’s actually happening: lenders are radically changing the terms of loan agreements for no other purpose than to gouge borrowers, and give borrowers no say in what happens.

It’s crazy that banks are legally permitted to raise interest rates on cardholders after they have charged debt to their credit card. If you pay full price for anything else—a shirt, a bag of groceries, a guitar—it would be laughable if the shop clerk demanded more money from you months later.

Banker apologists insist that banning these practices will restrict the flow of credit. But more credit cards will not fix a problem caused by massively over-indebted consumers. We need higher wages, not a fresh flood of predatory, high-interest debt.

But if taxpayers can win on credit cards, we can win on the bailout, too. Yes! Executive Editor Sarah van Gelder posted an open letter to President Barack Obama this week, citing half a dozen economic experts and urging him to change his bailout strategy before it’s too late. “Watching your appointees’ latest bank bailout makes me wonder if all your administration’s good work on health care, education, and jobs will be swept away by the extraordinary giveaway of trillions in taxpayer money to a group of powerful Wall Street operatives,” van Gelder writes.

And indeed, in other arenas of economic policy, the president has made significant steps in the right direction. While Obama’s proposed federal budget is less than perfect, it moves away from some of the worst trends of the past eight years. GritTV’s Laura Flanders details some of this progress in a roundtable discussion with Irasema Garza, President of Legal Momentum, former New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston, and New York City Coalition Against Hunger Director Joel Berg. By implementing robust job creation plans and a massive increase in anti-hunger and nutrition programs, Obama has signaled that the plight of those hardest hit by the recession cannot simply be ignored.

But these positive budget strides do not involve the banking lobby, which still maintains a stranglehold on any realm of U.S. public policy it can loot for a profit. Obama standing up to the financiers is not an improbable pipe dream, it’s a prerequisite for economic recovery and a necessary step toward rebuilding the integrity of our democracy.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy. Visit StimulusPlan.NewsLadder.net and Economy.NewsLadder.net for complete lists of articles on the economy, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical health and immigration issues, check out Healthcare.NewsLadder.net and Immigration.NewsLadder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.