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Category: Budget

Axelrod: We’re Gonna Have A Good Ol’ Fashioned Budget Battle

No, that headline is not a quote from White House political adviser David Axelrod during yesterday’s blogger roundtable which I was fortunate to attend.
But you tell me how else to interpret this:

DAVID AXELROD: Well, we have an obligation to put a budget forward, and we’re going to put a budget forward, and that budget is going to reflect the priorities that the President spoke to last night.
It’s going to be a tough budget in terms of the kind of the decisions we have to make about what we can afford and what we can’t afford. But it’s going to reflect the priorities that he spoke to.
And presumably Congress is going to then turn their cards over and say how they would do it differently. And we can have a discussion, the American people can participate in that discussion, as to the priorities…
…If, in fact, the idea is to cut education by 20 or 30 or 40 percent, that’s not a growth strategy. If the idea is to not move forward on innovation and research and development, not to move forward on energy, that’s not a growth strategy.
So I expect this debate to become engaged pretty quickly as we introduce our budget and as they respond to it, and hopefully present us with theirs.

Sounds like a good ol’ fashioned budget battle to me.
And I mean ol’ fashioned. It’s a quaint concept: two sides putting together actual budgets, scored by an objective independent agency, put before the public to debate whose priorities are best.
The White House is now trying to make sure there is a Republican budget to have a battle with. By going first with a detailed bduget, the White House makes it harder for House Republicans — who have been crowing about their fiscal seriousness — to duck without losing credibility .
Assuming the smoking out plan works, the jury is still out whether the White House make this a real debate about two competing visions for America, and not become bogged down into the numerical morass of a wonk-off, where it can be easily supplanted by the latest ephemeral outrage.
How might the White House crystallize the debate?
Part of the strategy would be a fundamental contrast between the President investing in key areas to create jobs and spark innovation, and the Republicans investing in nothing at all. We know that when the President has an unfettered bully pulpit, such as in the State of the Union, the public strongly backs the investment vision.
The second part may be to slam House Republicans for a lack of seriousness regarding deficit reduction. As National Economic Council Deputy Director Brian Deese said at the roundtable:

BRIAN DEESE: If you look at the combined impact of extending permanently the Bush high-income tax cuts, repealing health reform, and what some Republicans have suggested in terms of cuts, that’s a deficit-increase strategy.

As you can see, the White House does not appear to be giving up on either ending the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy, or the notion that health reform is the ultimate deficit reduction strategy.
The third part is the part that will give many progressives pause: touting the President’s willingness to cut spending overall even while boosting investment.
The politics make some sense on paper — much of the public wants to see both spending cuts and public investments. The President will offer both, the Republicans will offer only one.
But policy wise, cuts in discretionary spending – a mere slice of the overall budget – to meet an arbitrary “freeze” target don’t make sense. (Health reform is the ultimate deficit reduction, and the President has already embarked on that path. Unfortunately, much of the public doesn’t believe it, apparently prompting the White House to make other gestures.)
And the political cost, depending on where those cuts fall, may be little enthusiasm among progressives to help the President with the rest of the budget battle.
Progressives should find a way to push dual political objectives:
Push The Limits Of Debate: We can show an alternate path to deficit reduction that does not require any weakening of the social safety net or suffocation of investments for the future. The hard work has already been done with the Citizens’ Commission and other progressive deficit reduction proposals.
Amplify The Contrast: And we can amplify the contrast between the President’s budget and the Republican vision: jobs versus no jobs, honest budgeting versus deficit hypocrisy, the future versus the past – literally.
We shouldn’t let the need to show our own path to deficit reduction interfere with the need to win the headline battle between the President and House conservatives over the fundamental question of the importance of public investment to create jobs and revitalize America’s economic foundation.
Because if we can’t win that battle, there’s no way we can win the war.

Millennials Tackle 21st Century Think 2040: A Blueprint for Millennial America’s Future

By Hilary Doe, Director, Roosevelt Institute Campus Network
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEC1Yypx0mw&fs=1&hl=en_US]
Millennials are the largest generation in American history, constituting 33% of the eligible electorate by 2016. As Millennials come into their own — beginning families, forming their political beliefs, launching their careers — America is mired in a deep economic recession, forcing all of us to reflect on the future that we will inherit. In response, young people are coming together to chart a path out of this mess, by designing Blueprint for the Millennial America. We are building a vision for the country that is reflective of our shared priorities and our unique experience — and we’re already taking action to make our vision a reality for the future. We are leveraging our unique generational characteristics, transforming our communities nationwide, and redefining the America’s economic identity and the American Dream.
What do the reports from the President’s Fiscal Commission, and all the competing budget plans teach us? Americans are searching for answers to questions about our economic future. The recession, heightened economic insecurity, and a changing world keep us asking, “What will the period of American economic growth look like?” How will we strengthen our country’s fiscal future while investing in our people? What types of jobs will displaced autoworkers find? Who will invest in new companies and Americans’ ideas? Commentators like David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, and Joe Stiglitz have put forth their visions. Deficit hawks, social security advocates, and now, even the President’s Fiscal Commission have weighed in. The truth is, however, that new workers, entrepreneurs, and leaders will be the ones to define our future in new terms. And the generation of Americans that stands to inherit the consequences of our actions has put forth a plan of their own.
A movement of young people nationwide convened in communities across the country and online to articulate their values, their priorities, and provide concrete answers to the questions about the American economy, as well as American education, energy policy, foreign policy, our democracy, social justice, and health care. Through the Roosevelt’s Campus Network’s Think 2040 program, thousands have contributed to a shared vision for 2040 — A Blueprint for Millennial America. The Blueprint paints a vision of an America that invests in jobs and infrastructure, that curbs the federal debt, and that strengthens a flexible social safety “trampoline” to better respond to the 21st century challenges we all face.
Think 2040 participants identified rising debt, economic instability, and chronic unemployment as key challenges to address. The Blueprint highlights key priorities for America’s future to rebound and eventually flourish. In order for every American to have the opportunity to thrive, we must build a “trampoline” society that bounces people who fall behind back to economic stability, through fostering entrepreneurship, increased community ownership, and a reformed banking system. Millennials want to start with local change, which embodies their bottom-up philosophy toward spurring America back to prosperity.
Best of all, in communities nationwide, young people are already working to achieve their Millennial America, remaking America’s economic identity. Local economies have always shaped the American dream. Even in this “information age,” local endeavors are at the center of youth efforts to reshape America’s future.
This community-focused approach stands at the core of the Roosevelt Campus Network’s mission to engage, empower, and promote the next generation of progressive leaders. Through the Roosevelt Campus Network, the nation’s largest student policy organization, young people engage identify challenges in their cities, states, and nation, then campaign around their own policy solutions to solve them — a sort of grassroots, student-driven think tank that fosters the next generation of American activists and thought-leaders.
The bottom line: Millennials are speaking for themselves about the future that they want to inherit. We are looking to our leaders to listen. We are looking to our communities, America’s thought-leaders, and activists for guidance and support as we pursue our vision. We are hoping to learn from the past, build toward the future, and design an America reflective of our values and our priorities. We are your children, your grandchildren, your neighbors, your co-workers, and your best bet at overcoming the 21st century challenges that we face with a comprehensive vision we can get behind, support, implement, and achieve.
Read our vision at Roosevelt’s Think 2040: Blueprint for the Millennial America and contribute your voice to the conversation at www.think2040.org
Contributors: Manpriya Samra, Tarsi Dunlop, and Zachary Kolodin

Tort Reform, Misdirection, and The Lesser of Two Evils

Before their 2008 meltdown, the hit on the Republican Party was simple: great at campaigning, bad at governing. Republicans were able to whip up populist fervor in ways that Democrats hadn’t in a generation, and had so successfully honed their message that in election years their strategy no longer revolved around winning independent voters, but activating a base that could win an election by itself. In spite of that, Republican candidates that reached office seemed to almost inevitably descend into scandal, like Governors Ernie Fletcher and Bob Taft in Kentucky and Ohio, or ineptitude, like Sarah Palin.
The question is, then, how did these same candidates win an election in the first place? Some ran in bright red states; some were confronted with Democrats who were slightly less talented campaigners than the yard signs that become so plentiful during even-numbered Octobers; almost universally, they sold issues that have no effect on the lives of most voters.
To be clear, the voting majority doesn’t always know an issue won’t affect their lives. Rather, they become so emotionally activated by it that they seize upon the issue, only to realize later that they’ve been duped. If you need proof, ask the 92% of Iowans who told the Des Moines Register this week that their lives had not changed since gay marriage became legal in their state.
Gay marriage, of course, is a civil rights issue, and while it has a profound effect upon the lives of some, it does inspire more of us to action because of the stakes. More than just ineffective ideas, however, we’ve seen a generation-long peddling of irrelevancies and frauds from the GOP: during the 2008 campaign, John McCain railed against earmarks. He did this without telling you, of course, that earmark spending is as readily transparent and fully disclosed as any spending in the federal government, spent in a more direct and efficient manner, and, despite all of the howling over it, comprises an infinitesimal amount of government spending. When cable news erupted over the $410 Billion Omnibus Spending Bill this spring and the multitude of earmarks included, their ire was captured by 2% of the total cost.
This trend continues even into the healthcare reform debate, as the President has thrown the GOP a bone, acknowledging their wish to explore tort reform on a national level. One would imagine that after the last eight years our federal government would have ceased looking to Texas for ideas, but I digress; tort reform just doesn’t matter. In 2003, Texas saw a campaign to pass Proposition 12 instituting tort reform, which was sold to the voter largely as a method of luring doctors to rural communities. Texas does indeed have more doctors today than it did in 2003. They’re also overwhelmingly choosing to live in the wealthiest areas; the number of neurosurgeons, obstetricians, and orthopedic surgeons (all identified as critical needs in the Proposition 12 campaign) grew by 45% in Collin County, which is the wealthiest in the state. Against this backdrop, Texas still has the highest rate of uninsured individuals in the country.
As our national debate on health care rages for what 24-hour news cycles make feel like an eternity, it’s important to maintain focus on the key issues at hand: lowering costs and expanding coverage to the uninsured. Hypothetically, lower damages would allow the provider to lower their rates; in practice, Texas has seen insurance premiums rise by 92% since 2000. After the gay marriage and earmark debates we know better than to trade away the last recourse for 98,000 families who lost a loved one to negligence for no appreciable gains. Right?

News round up

Monday evening news Roundup

  • For the second straight day, let’s start overseas. North Korea is miffed that the United States has not lived up to their obligations in the nuclear nonproliferation Treaty, according to North Korea. It appears that they are beginning to start up their nuclear reactor, again.
  • Record jump in oil prices today as if we don’t have enough to worry about.
  • Wall Street seems to be having a difficult time figuring out what Congress is doing, just as I am. The Dow lost 372 points today.
  • An Iraqi top official testified in front of the Senate today. The former chief inspector of Iraq’s Commission on Public Integrity told US senators that approximately $9 billion of American reconstruction money had been lost, stolen or misused. $9 billion. That’s one third of a Bear Stearns bail out.
  • The New York Times had a large article on Senator John McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis. McCain with Freddie and Fannie lobby group Rick Davis received approximately $30,000 per month for five years as a president of an advocacy group for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Senator McCain has been hammering Barack Obama on his ties with these loan agencies. The McCain campaign cried foul. They began whining that the New York Times is partial to Barack Obama. Then again, they’ve been whining on a variety of subjects recently. They just aren’t being treated fairly. The New York Times responded with an official statement.
  • Details of the $700 billion loan bailout are slowly emerging. Questions about McCain and his economic decisions are bubbling to the surface. Did he almost bankrupt Arizona with his electric cars? BTW, as long as, we are talking about this bailout, we know that President Bush loves corporate insiders. Well, where did Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson come from? Goldman Sachs. He was the former chairman who received $38 million as chairman in 2005. Sweet package. He has surrounded himself with Goldman Sachs ex-employees. Who stands to gain from this corporate bailout? Not Goldman Sachs. Never.
  • The final game of the regular season has been played in Yankee Stadium. I’m not a New York Yankees fan. On the other hand, I do appreciate the history and the significance of Yankee Stadium. The House that Ruth built will be torn down. If it wasn’t so big, it should be made into a museum. The new Yankee Stadium was built across the street and will be ready for the New York Yankee home opener in April of 2009.
  • Congratulations to Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart!!!

What are we, Americans, about?

As I look around and I try to interpret domestic and foreign policy, one question keeps nagging at me, what are we, as Americans, about? Let’s look at recent events. The failure of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-Chip) was extremely interesting. Several facts, no matter how badly the Republicans try to twist them, are still facts. 6 million children are not covered by any government program or private insurance. This is a fact. The current program will be an increase in funding just a cover the same number of kids as the program has been covering. The Bush administration has proposed a cut in funding. Furthermore, the Democrats met the Republicans half-way and closed the loophole where some states had enrolled adults. Also, Democrats excluded economic refugees (illegal aliens). Even if you became a citizen, you had to wait 5 years before qualifying for the S-Chip. As most of you know, the S-Chip program was unable to override a veto. The Democratic led Congress is trying to devise a bill that may be more suitable to more Republicans.
The wildfires in California demonstrate the overwhelming power of nature. At one point over a half a million people had evacuated the region and over a thousand homes have been burned. Why? The Southern California wildfires are completely predictable. We know that wildfires will erupt in late August or early September. So, these wildfires were late in the season but still, why haven’t we adopted some plan to protect a city as large as San Diego. Estimates of damage currently hover around $1 billion. Couldn’t we have spent $1 billion and constructed some sort of protective barrier just east of San Diego? The barrier could be an area of desert that is devoid of vegetation. We could construct some sort of rock formation that makes it difficult for the fire to skip over the rocks. Although I believe a lot of Katrina references are inappropriate, I think pre-disaster planning or more correctly, the lack of pre-disaster planning is seen in both instances. The levies in many areas of New Orleans were laughable if we are serious in protecting the city.
Over the last several months there have been several outbreaks of food poisoning. Time and time again we are told by food processing companies that they are doing “all that they can.” We’ve also had several different toy recalls because the toys were painted with lead paint. Lead paint! This is the year 2007 not 1967. Lead paint?

The Iraq invasion and occupation has been a complete disaster. Everything that thoughtful experts were saying about the region is coming to pass. Ethic violence – Check. Interference from Syria, Iran and Turkey – Check. Destabilization of the region – check. Everything that the smart people said was true (maybe that’s why they are smart.) Now, the Bush administration has imposed sanctions against Iran. Sanctions that are specifically designed to get under Iran’s skin. It is clear that without corporation from Russia and China the sanctions have little or no meaning. Yet, we do this very aggressive act to what end? To pick a fight, that’s all that it could be.

Finally, looking at the way that we have treated captured detainees. We have tortured prisoners. We have tortured prisoners. I can’t get over that. (Isn’t that a great recruitment tool for Al Qaeda!) We, well, Bush has twisted the law so that he becomes all 3 branches of government. He was about to design, legislate and preside over these extra-legal proceedings called military tribunals. Bush’s own Republican Supreme Court struck it down. So, Congress wrote a law that substitutes this unconstitutional court with another one that looks almost exactly the same.
So, what are we, as a nation about? Are we the home of the free and land of the Brave? Are we about the idea of freedom and liberty? Are freedom and liberty just a slogan for the good times? Or are we about the Bush doctrine of my way or the highway, corporate greed and more corporate greed (I repeated greed because there is just so much of it.)

GOP Priorities: Looting Our Treasury

As the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage failed to garner support from two-thirds of the Senate, Dem messages regarding the timing seem to have resonated.
With Iraq disintegrating, gas prices spiking, New Orleans not functioning, health care costs skyrocketing, wages stagnating, poverty rising, budget bleeding, and our immigration system failing, the GOP focus on gay marriage seems particularly out of sync with what’s on most people’s minds.
Next up this week is estate tax repeal — aka the Paris Hilton Tax Cut.
Will Democrats maintain the same message?
It’s arguably even more important now.
It’s one thing to call out the GOP when it panders to fringe fundamentalists.
It’s another to dress down the essence of their entire domestic agenda.
None of the above crises can be solved by further draining our national treasury and turning the super-wealthy into a permanent aristocracy.
Yet that’s what’s at the top of the GOP agenda.
Not major investment in renewable energy, which would also create good-paying jobs.
Not health care reforms to cover the uninsured and reduce costs.
Not a course correction in Iraq that would end occupation, begin real international engagement and lead to legitimate democracy (and would also, as a side benefit, save us billions, maybe trillions, in war costs.)
The GOP is fully aware and fearful of how the estate tax connects to larger issues.
They flinched at the last minute from voting on repeal after Katrina, because they knew the public wanted a financial commitment to New Orleans, not to wealthy party donors.
They were afraid of the connection. We should make the connection.
That is far more important than trying to forge some “less bad” compromise, which would make defeating repeal for naught.
The Carpetbagger Report said earlier this week that a party which would ban gay marriage before passing a defense authorization bill is simply “unserious” about governing.
So is a party that pretends any problem can be solved by looting our treasury at the behest of a tiny elite.