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Senate OKs Bill to Avert Shutdown September 27, 2011

Posted by seeineye in : Politics , add a comment

After a heated battle between Dems and GOP over disaster aid, the Senate votes to send a temporary spending bill to the House to avoid a government shutdown.

The vote in the Senate was 79 to 12 to fund the government through Nov. 18, giving the two sides more time to haggle over long-term spending levels. The Senate also approved an even shorter-term spending bill — funding the government into next week — by a voice vote to give the House time to reconvene and approve the followup.

The breakthrough came hours after the Federal Emergency Management Agency indicated it had enough money for disaster relief efforts through Friday. That disclosure allowed lawmakers to jettison a $1 billion replenishment that had been included in the measure — and to crack the gridlock it had caused.

The events assured there would be no interruption in assistance in areas battered by disasters such as Hurricane Irene and last summer’s tornados in Joplin, Mo., and also that the government would be able to run normally when the new budget year begins on Saturday.

The agreement also spelled the end to the latest in a string of political standoffs between Democrats and Republicans over deficits, spending and taxes that have rattled financial markets and coincided with polls showing congressional approval ratings at historically low levels.

“This compromise should satisfy Republicans…and it should satisfy Democrats,” said Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, who added that Budget Director Jacob Lew had informed him that FEMA did not need any additional funding to meet its needs for the final few days of the budget year.

“It’s a win for everyone,” Reid declared.

House Speaker John Boehner’s office argued that the GOP was never opposed to disaster aid, just the process for approving the aid.

“Senate Democrats have conceded that the spending level in the House-passed bill was the most responsible solution,” Boehner spokesman Mike Steel said in a written statement. “If it weren’t for House GOP efforts, the American taxpayers would have been on the hook for even more reckless borrowing by Washington Democrats.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the latest legislation was a “reasonable way to keep the government operational.”

But not even the dispute-resolving agreement prevented Democrats from proceeding to a politically charged vote earlier in the evening that was designed to force Republicans to decide whether immediate aid to disaster victims or deficit concerns held a higher priority.

And the rhetoric was far harsher during the day on the Senate floor, when Mary Landrieu, D-La., unleashed an unusually personal attack on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., saying the weeks-long controversy started when he said, “Before we can provide help we need to find offsets in the budget.”

She called that “the Cantor doctrine” and said the controversy “could have been avoided if Cantor had just said, `I’m sorry, but I made a mistake.’ But instead of saying that, he doubled down,” she said.

Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for Cantor, responded that the Virginia Republican had “never said the things she alleged, he has only suggested that we ought to provide disaster aid dollars to those who need them in a responsible way — something that she’s voted to block despite the urgent need.”

In fact, House Republicans insisted that any new disaster aid for the expiring budget year be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget, a decision that Democrats seized on in hopes of reshaping the political terrain to their advantage.

Hours earlier, FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen, said the agency had $114 million left in its disaster relief fund, enough to last until Thursday or Friday, the final business day of the current budget year. She said the exact timing would depend on the number of emergency victims who apply for aid, and whether any new disasters occur.

FEMA officials had said previously the funds would run out early this week. That concern prompted the Obama administration a few weeks ago to ask Congress to approve a replenishment to tide the agency over through the Sept. 30 end to the fiscal year.

House Republicans agreed weeks ago to provide $1 billion and include the money in a bill that also provides money for most federal agencies for the first few weeks of the 2012 budget year. At the same time, they insisted on cutting spending elsewhere in the budget by $1.5 billion to prevent the deficit from rising, an amount later raised to $1.6 billion.

That, in turn, produced a quick attack from Senate Democrats, who opposed cuts.

While it was unclear precisely how long FEMA’s remaining funds would last, one official said the agency began conserving funds last month as Hurricane Irene approached the U.S. mainland, prioritizing its aid to help individual disaster victims and pay states and local governments for immediate needs such as removing debris and building sand bag barricades.

Funding of $450 million has been put on hold for longer-term needs such as reconstruction of damaged roads, the official said. In addition, the agency has been able to reclaim unused money from past disasters, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing lack of authority to discuss the matter publicly.

The ghost of Obama future June 17, 2011

Posted by seeineye in : Politics , add a comment

Omens.

Air Force One has landed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the first time it has done so in an official capacity since JFK’s island visit 50 years ago.  While in Puerto Rico, President Obama is scheduled to deliver remarks on the island’s status (the hottest of local hot-button topics), tout a Stimulus-funded project (time permitting), and (of course!) host a pair of fundraising events.

The local press has hailed the visit as an opportunity for the locals to cast aside their ideological differences, embrace the spirit of the Post-Partisan Lightworker, hold hands, and chant “Sí, Se Puede”.  I suspect (and Politico confirms) that this trip is less about Puerto Ricans who live on the island than about those who have moved stateside…that this is but a distant leg on Obama’s re-elect tour, the easternmost leg of the “Thank Me For Justice Sotomayor” road trip.  Over 4 million Puerto Ricans live stateside,  847,000 in Florida alone.  Of these, 300,000 live along the all-important I-4 corridor. It is no wonder, then, that some have framed this visit in terms of   “building security”.

If I championed the very policies that have forced 250,000 (equivalent to two Mariel boatlifts) persons to leave home in the last decade alone, I’d be insecure, too.

50+ years of unfettered progressivism have placed Puerto Rico in a situation where there is an abundance of government (and corruption), and no real solutions to its deep structural problems.  The inhabitants of this small(ish) island are governed by one governor,  53 representatives, 31 senators, 78 mayors (with their respective city councils), and a government that constitutes over a third of its total workforce.  When we combine this workforce with recipients of transfer payments, over 60% of the island’s population depends on the government for income, whether partially or totally.  The local government not only subsidizes power and water for local residents of public housing, but also subsidizes cell phone usage.  Recently, the state university shut down due to violent student tuition protests.  The resulting decay has spread throughout the fabric of society, leaving many no choice but to abandon their beloved island, never to return.

There are those who suggest that the island’s political status needs to change in advance of any structural changes.  I reject that argument, and submit that these policies have been enacted by both Popular Democrats and New Progressives, who have identified as Democrats and Republicans.  Even now, Governor Fortuño was once touted as a VP hopeful because of his early dismissal of over 20,000 government employees.  Since then, he has embraced ObamaCare, yet is still facing a brutal re-elect.  The current Commonwealth status can prosper if run conservatively.  Conversely, Statehood can only aggravate the island’s problems, if they are left unaddressed.

To look at Puerto Rico’s embrace of unchecked progressivism and the resulting decay of her institutions  is to gaze upon the Ghost of Obama Future.  We now know how this is going to end.  We can confirm that the light at the end of that tunnel is indeed an oncoming train.

Conservatives everywhere should mark the occasion of Obama’s visit to Puerto Rico by asking her children this very question:  Why would you want to support the same economic policies that forced you to leave home?

Great news: Deficit set to blast past $1 trillion for third straight year June 14, 2011

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So guess what Democrats now want to do?

Actually, the federal deficit is already almost at $1 trillion for FY2011 after just eight months, as The Hill has reported:

Still, through eight months of the 2011 fiscal year the nation is facing its third straight $1 trillion-plus deficit — totaling $927.4 billion so far compared with $935.6 billion during the same period in 2010, about $8 billion less, according to the report.

Taking the average of eight months and extrapolating it out to the end of the fiscal year, we will run a deficit of $1,391,100,000,000 by September 30th.  That will be the third straight year of trillion-dollar deficits under Barack Obama and Democratic budgets.

Democrats claim that the problem comes from a lack of revenue, but that’s clearly not the issue:

Receipts totaled $175 billion in May, up 19 percent and nearly $30 billion higher than the same period last year while outlays were $233 billion, about $50 billion less than a year ago, according to the Treasury’s monthly budget statement. …

Total receipts for the fiscal year are $1.5 trillion, about 10 percent higher than last year, with outlays standing at $2.4 trillion, about 6 percent above last year’s levels.

So far this year, individual income tax payments were up 28 percent to $701.8 billion, while corporate tax receipts increased 5 percent.

Averaging and extrapolating the receipts shows a revenue stream for FY2011 of $2.25 trillion.  That’s $335 billion less than in FY2007, when we ran a deficit of $160 billion.  Had we ended up with a deficit of $500 billion, one could explain it as a result of loss of income.  The deficits have run more than four times the revenue shortfall, however, which means that it’s the spending that drives the deficits — as anyone with a calculator could guess.

Democrats have a plan to resolve the economic stall that caused the revenue shortfall, however.  Care to guess what it is?

Senior Senate Democrats are growing frustrated by what they see as President Obama’s passivity on the economy, and are beginning to discuss a large infrastructure package funded by tax increases.

Some Democrats, such as Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who serves as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, think such a package could lower the unemployment rate by as much as two percentage points. …

“The last election was about jobs and the economy, and now we’re in a position where we really do need some economic pump-priming by the federal government,” he said.

Er, didn’t we already do the “economic pump-priming” in 2009?  That’s when Democrats presented a blank check to Barack Obama of almost $800 billion to prime the economic pump, the amount he requested and the amount that his economic team said would keep unemployment down below 8%.  It hasn’t reached 8% since, but not because joblessness hasn’t gotten that high — but because it hasn’t gotten that low, not even with record flight from the workforce.  As the numbers above show, government spending is still rising well above the rate of inflation (actually closer to four times the rate of core inflation), and it’s not spurring a massive job-creation spree now.

In fact, another stimulus package is more likely to damage long-term prospects of job creation, especially considering how Democrats plan to fund it:

Conrad estimates the Treasury loses about $1.1 trillion in revenue a year in special tax breaks — or what some Democrats call tax expenditures. Some of these tax breaks — subsidies for oil companies and breaks for companies that relocate factories overseas, for example — could be ended to fund infrastructure projects.

“We have a significant shortfall in the trust fund to pay for transportation. How do you pay for it? You got to pay for it with other spending cuts or additional revenue,” Conrad said. “I would prefer to go after offshore tax havens to pay for it.”

Yes, by all means, let’s raise taxes to fund “infrastructure,” even though massive spending on infrastructure gained us nothing from the 2009 spending spree.  Hiking taxes on producers means higher prices for consumers, job losses in the industries targeted, or a combination of both.  Raising taxes on oil companies will mean higher prices not just at the pump, but across the retail sector.  That will slow demand, which will mean fewer permanent jobs even if construction jobs get a temporary boost.  The economic impact of gas-price increases should have made that rather obvious, even to tax-and-spenders like Harkin and Conrad.

The popular definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  Another dive into the empty Keynesian pool is practically as insane an economic policy as one can imagine after the flop of the Obamanomics “recovery.”

Investors Business Daily also wonders at the sanity of Democrats in Congress:

Has Harkin been asleep for the past two years? Doesn’t he remember that Democrats already pushed through $830 billion worth of “pump priming”? And that this was supposed to stimulate growth and hold unemployment under 8%?

Instead, quarterly GDP growth has averaged an anemic 2.8% since the recession officially ended two years ago, and unemployment has been at or above 9% for all but two of the past 24 months.

Indeed, few ideas have been so thoroughly discredited as the one that says more government spending will increase jobs. As the chart above shows, government outlays climbed more than 40% between 2006 and 2011. At the same time, the employment figure has dropped by almost 5 million.

The Cato Institute’s Mark Calabria, who pulled the data together for the chart, is quick to point out that just because there’s a correlation between rising government spending and falling jobs doesn’t mean there’s a causal relationship.

However, he says, it does “suggest to me that continued massive government spending is not going to turn around the job market.”

Top Democrats: Huntsman is the Republican we fear most May 18, 2011

Posted by seeineye in : Politics , add a comment

He’s a centristy maverick with foreign policy chops — and you know how well those types do against Barack Obama in national elections.

Top Democrats in and outside the White House, speaking on background so they could be more candid, suggest that former US Ambassador to China and Utah Governor Jon Huntsman would be the GOP candidate President Obama would least like to face in 2012 — but they think he can’t win the nomination.

The very qualities that make Huntsman formidable in November 2012 — his centrism and bipartisanship — will work against him in Iowa and South Carolina, Democrats say…

The president has told friends he “caught lightning in a bottle” in 2008, and even catching every break, Obama only won with 53% of the vote, with 47% of the country voting against him — a number Democrats say isn’t going to go down in 2012, with an economy still on the mend, high unemployment and skyrocketing gas prices.

It’ll be taken as a given that this is some sort of crude experiment in reverse psychology, aimed at convincing conservatives to nominate a guy who’s easy pickings for Obama in the general election instead of, oh, say, Michele Bachmann. (Rush Limbaugh dismissed the media’s interest in Mitch Daniels on those grounds just a few days ago.) If that’s the case, though, why does the White House semi-jokingly tout Huntsman’s service as ambassador at every turn knowing that the link to Obama is poisonous to him in the primaries? More to the point, why did they offer him the ambassadorship in the first place? That move was intended in part from the very beginning to take him out of contention for 2012. If they want him to win, they should frame him as being fundamentally hostile to The One and his foreign policy and maybe more confrontational with China than they preferred in order to give him a Trumpian “bravado boost” among the base. If they think he’s a tin can, they should be setting him up to win by polishing his anti-Obama cred.

As for the “reverse psychology” argument, if conservatives were given a choice of facing Mark Warner or Bernie Sanders in a national election, I assume most would prefer to face the latter since, as a leftist, he’d have a tougher time capturing independents than a centrist like Warner would. That’s not us using reverse psychology on the left, it’s simple recognition that elections tend to be won in the middle provided that the nominee isn’t so far to the center that his/her base won’t turn out in big numbers. That’s no problem for the GOP in 2012; disgust with Obama runs so deep that grassroots righties will be out in droves no matter who the pick is. In which case, it’s not so much “reverse psychology” by the left that points them towards Huntsman, it’s conventional wisdom about not wanting to face someone who can poach votes from indies that they need when they already have to worry about gigantic turnout among the anti-Obama grassroots. None of that really matters in this particular case — Huntsman doesn’t have a prayer in the primaries — but electability will be a factor for voters when picking a nominee. The flattery he’s getting on the left is really just their awareness of that, knowing that he’s dead in the water already.

House passes Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget, 235-193 April 15, 2011

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by Barry Carr

Commitment.

It wasn’t quite party-line — four Republicans (Ron Paul among them) joined the Democrats in opposition — but it was awfully close, an amazing achievement for the House GOP given the potential toxicity of this vote. DCCC chief Steve Israel is already chortling that today’s roll will return Democrats to the majority, a distinct possibility once The One hones his Mediscaring technique on the stump. But that’s beside the point: This debate has to happen and there’s no other way to force it. Obama’s perfectly content to let the country’s finances continue to melt down as long as he gets reelected, something even his pal Alan Simpson now seems to recognize, so unless the “Gang of Six” pulls a rabbit out of its hat, this is it. If doing nothing to reduce the country’s catastrophic debt except lying about the rich’s capacity to pay it down turns out to be a big political winner for Democrats, then good luck to them. I’m sure they’ll do a fine job implementing America’s emergency austerity plan a few years from now.

Philip Klein gives credit where it’s due:

Traditionally, the obstacle to getting either party to embrace entitlement reform was that there was a risk to going on record as wanting to change these popular programs , while doing nothing was safe. However, at least for Republicans, that dynamic has shifted, and doing nothing is politically risky. And the credit for that development goes to the Tea Parties for putting pressure on Republicans to get serious about spending.

The Ryan budget will not become law in its current state as long as Obama is president. While the prevailing wisdom is that this vote could make Republicans more vulnerable in 2012, the flip side is that if Democrats pull out all the stops to demagogue the issue, and House Republicans hang on and the GOP even gains Senate seats, it will end the third-rail status of these entitlement programs that, if unchanged, will rob future generations of the American Dream.

There will be a lot of opportunities to criticize GOP leaders going forward, but today, they deserve a pat on the back.

I’d kill to know what serious centrist Democrats like Hoyer and Shuler and Mark Warner really think of Ryan’s plan. No doubt they have earnest concerns about parts of it — so do conservatives, frankly — but they also know the fiscal stakes and surely realize that the Lightbringer will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table to get him to act. Even the Gang of Six can’t believe that his response to the failure of the Deficit Commission is to … appoint another commission. But that’s what we elected. And given the tidal wave of demagoguery to come, he’s probably the guy we’ll elect again. Good luck, America.

Here’s Ryan’s floor speech today. The Democrats had some fun with him on an earlier vote by almost letting the Republican Study Committee’s even more conservative budget pass instead.