Budget

Sequestration Nation and Remembering Robert Kennedy

Flickr/Kemon01

With the sequester now beginning, I find myself thinking about Robert F. Kennedy—and 46 years ago when I was an intern in his Senate office.

1967 was a difficult time for the nation. America was deeply split over civil rights and the Vietnam War. Many of our cities were burning. The war was escalating. 

But RFK was upbeat. He was also busy and intense—drafting legislation, lining up votes, speaking to the poor, inspiring the young. I was awed by his energy and optimism, and his overriding passion for social justice and the public good. (Within a few months he’d declare his intention to run for president. Within a year he’d be dead.) 

The Five Most Terrifying Things about the Sequester

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The latest fiscal showdown concerns the “sequester”—across the board cuts to (almost entirely) discretionary spending that will total just over $1 trillion in the next decade, and which are set to take effect on March 1. What should those who have better things to do with their life than follow fiscal policy debates know about the sequester? 

Lockheed, Stock, and Barrel

Do we truly need brand new aircraft carriers? Nope, but try telling the Pentagon and their many contractor friends.

AP Photo/Northwest Florida Daily News, Devon Ravine

AP Photo/Eric Talmadge

Trading The Blame Game for The Bully Pulpit

Flickr/Neon Tommy

The White House apparently believes the best way to strengthen its hand in the upcoming “sequester” showdown with Republicans is to tell Americans how awful the spending cuts will be and blame Republicans for them.

It won’t work. These tactical messages are getting in the way of the larger truth, which the president must hammer home: The Republicans’ austerity and trickle-down economics are dangerous, bald-faced lies.

Yes, the pending spending cuts will hurt. But even if some Americans begin to feel the pain when the cuts go into effect Friday, most won’t feel it for weeks or months, if ever.

Threat versus "Threat"

The second entry in our series on how to fix the Pentagon budget

flickr/zennie62

AP Photo

Still More BS

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

We all do things that we regret. President Obama must surely regret that he ever listened to the extreme deficit hawks back in early 2010, when he appointed the Bowles-Simpson Commission, the fiscal zombie that just won’t die.

The commission is long defunct. The recommendations of its majority report never became law (because that required a super-majority). But the dreams and schemes of B-S have become the gold standard of deflationists everywhere. The test of budgetary soundness is: does it meet the recommendations of Bowles and Simpson?

Sequester Stupidity

President Obama arguing against the sequester cuts.

Next week, the "sequester," a package of severe cuts to government spending, will take effect, and although the consequences won't all be felt the first day, they will come fairly quickly, and they'll be painful, not only to people on an individual basis—say if you're one of the thousands of government employees being furloughed, or when you're waiting in longer lines at the airport—but to the broader economy as all these effects begin to ripple outward. And so, the administration and Congress are engaging in what surely looks to most Americans like a spectacularly idiotic argument about whose fault it is. But before we start blaming both sides equally for indulging in a battle over blame, we have to be clear on who's actually to blame for all the blaming. The truth is that while both sides are trying to spin things their way, there's a difference in how each is talking about the sequester.

President Obama's principal argument is this: The sequester is a really bad thing, so Congress needs to stop it. He's out posing with first responders, detailing the cuts that will take place and the problems that will ensue, and generally trying to put pressure on Republicans to walk us back from this cliff. Does he want them to get the blame when it happens? Of course. But his main argument is about the practical consequences of the cuts, made in an attempt to avert the cuts from happening. Republicans, on the other hand, aren't spending much time talking about the consequences of the sequester. Yes, they'll decry the defense cuts, but that's almost throat-clearing before they get to their main argument, which is: This is all Barack Obama's fault. They created a Twitter hashtag, #Obamaquester, to make sure everyone knows whose fault it is. They're holding press conferences with that hashtag on big signs. The instruction has obviously gone out to every Republican that the most important thing to repeat when talking about this issue is that it was all Obama's idea, so there. John Boehner has an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal going on at some length about how Republicans had nothing to do with it (Steve Benen does the yeoman's work of going through Boehner's piece line-by-line to document all the absurd falsehoods contained therein).

On the question of who's idea it was, the basic answer is that it appears it came from the White House initially. But the real answer is, who cares who thought of it first?

Homeless, Hungry, Hung Out to Dry

USDA/Bob Nichols

The sequester—a set of deep, across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending set to take effect if lawmakers cannot agree to a longterm budget deal—was never supposed to happen. But as the deadline for reaching an agreement ticks ever closer, Congress appears hopelessly deadlocked. Under the original agreement, sequestration would have triggered $100 billion in cuts to both defense and non-defense discretionary spending on January 1—an 8.2 percent reduction in non-defense expenditures. The “fiscal-cliff” deal reached in December reduced that amount to $85.3 billion and pushed the deadline back to March. Under the new deal, non-defense discretionary spending would be cut by $42.7 billion yearly for the next nine years. This is on top of $1.5 trillion in cuts over the next decade that have already been enacted.

Pretty Words, Dismal Economics

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last week—which called for, among other things, universal pre-K and raising the minimum wage—offered a bold program for rebuilding the middle class. But the president’s continuing commitment to budgetary austerity makes these commitments hollow, if not cynical. And just as Obama and the Democrats paid the price in the 2010 midterm election for excess caution and conciliation, the results of tokenism are not likely to be pretty in the midterms of 2014.

The Return of the Balanced Budget Amendment

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell says Senate Republicans will unanimously support a balanced-budget amendment, to be unveiled Wednesday as the core of the GOP’s fiscal agenda.

There’s no chance of passage so why are Republicans pushing it now? “Just because something may not pass doesn’t mean that the American people don’t expect us to stand up and be counted for the things that we believe in,” says McConnnell.

The President's Dream State

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

By any measure, President Obama’s first term was consequential. In four years, he signed an $800 billion stimulus and infrastructure investment program, laid the foundation for universal health insurance, secured new regulations on the financial sector, repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and put the United States on the path back to economic recovery.

Jobs and Growth, Not Deficit Reduction

Flickr/Andreas Klinke Johannsen

Can we just keep things in perspective? On Tuesday, the President asked Republicans to join him in finding more spending cuts and revenues before the next fiscal cliff whacks the economy at the end of the month.

Yet that same day, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal budget deficit will drop to 5.3 percent of the nation’s total output by the end of this year. 

The Austerity Lobby Loses One

Flickr/Michael Pollack

The fiscal deal that raised taxes on the top one percent was a victory only for what it did not do. It did not cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or other public spending. Unfortunately, it merely put off the next round of jousting over fiscal issues to a time when Republicans will have more leverage.

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