Holding the American People Hostage

by Walter Brasch

Judges who wish to assure that a jury has no outside influence will sequester them.

Legally, a sequestered jury is seized by authority and isolated from all outside influences.

The jurors are escorted into and out of the courtroom. They aren’t allowed to read newspapers, listen to radio news, or watch TV news, ‘lest they could be influenced by the media. They are escorted to and from meals, and isolated from other customers. They can’t discuss the case with family or friends. They can’t even go home at the end of the day; they’re housed in hotel rooms.

In the summer of 2011, a bipartisan “super-committee” was supposed to come up with a reasonable budget to eliminate $1.2-$1.5 trillion from the national deficit. The Congressionally-mandated sequester went into effect two weeks ago when Congress couldn’t come up with a better idea about the budget. The draconian cuts across all federal programs was supposed to be enacted only as a last-ditch measure. The concept was that Congress and the Administration would be so fearful of the results of the sequester, which the media and elected officials often called a “poison pill,” they would take the time to thoughtfully work out a proper budget, and the sequester would never happen.

But, the Republicans dug in their heels, refused to compromise, and even continued their vacations the last week before the sequester went into effect.

Republican Speaker John Boehner claims he doesn’t like the sequester, never liked it-although he praised it a year ago-and blames President Obama.

President Obama wanted to restore the tax rates that existed before the Bush tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000, while keeping the tax cuts for everyone else. Under Republican pressure, he eventually raised the limit to $400,000. The President further proposed a budget that would yield $1.1 trillion in spending cuts and $700 billion in increased revenue, primarily from closing federal tax loopholes and deductions that benefitted primarily the nation’s upper class. That proposal already included cutting back the deficit by $600 billion. (For those keeping track, George W. Bush came into office with a $236.2 billion surplus; by the end of his presidency, he left Barack Obama a $500 billion deficit and the worst Recession since the Great Depression of 1929.)

The Republicans, willingly jerked around by their Tea Party base, don’t want the restoration of the tax rates for anyone. Of course, they also don’t want to end billions of dollars of corporate subsidies, paid for through taxes upon the working poor. Until this past week, the Republicans didn’t even have a budget proposal of their own until they dusted off and put new polish on Rep. Paul Ryan’s slightly revised budget proposal from the 2012 campaign. That would be the budget proposal the American people rejected when they gave Barack Obama a resounding second term victory.

The Congressional Budget Office says the sequester could cut more than 750,000 federal jobs. Republicans like that idea, especially since most federal employees are also members of unions. But, those jobs include public health officials, social service workers, teachers, air traffic controllers, and others in critical jobs. Cutting social services appeals to the Republican mind-set, but cutting the number of air traffic controllers alone would cause not just a severe reduction of flights, but significant lost revenue for the airlines. Obviously, the Republicans, the party of corporate America, don’t really care.

And now we learn that the Republican leadership wasn’t honest with their own members, and didn’t tell them of the cuts the President had already agreed to, and the myriad compromises he had already made with the Republican speaker of the house and the Republican senate minority chair to try to avoid the sequester.

It may seem that Congress had no idea what the word “sequester” meant when it created this fiscal disaster. But the reality is that Congress does know. Its actions-or, rather, its failure to act- has left the American people isolated and held hostage by authority. This time, it’s not a judge sequestering a jury, but a Republican-dominated Congress sequestering all of the American people.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is the best-selling Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the consequences of fracking by the natural gas industry. The book is available through amazon.com, greeleyandstone.com, or local bookstores.]

Commonwealth Foundation warns of Union “fear mongering campaigns” through “fear mongering” campaign

( – promoted by John Morgan)

I once made myself a promise not to write about Corrections. Being a corrections officer, I always said no good could come from writing about Corrections. However, the Commonwealth Foundation, a free market, conservative think tank recently released an article that is making me break that promise.

Warning Pennsylvanians’ of a so-called “fear mongering campaign” in the works, Katrina Currie’s article “Government Union Jeopardizes Criminal Justice Reform” (http://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/policyblog/detail/government-union-jeopardizes-criminal-justice-reform) uses the charge she levies against the PSCOA (Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association) to counter a report by Donald Gilliland in the Patriot-News.

In the Patriot-News article “Plan to reduce number of inmates in Pennsylvania faces critics” by Donald Gilliland (http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2012/02/plan_to_reduce_number_of_inmat.html), we see President of the PSCOA Roy Pinto responding to claims that the Governors’ budget expects to cut the state prison population by more than 2500 inmates next year. In the usual tit for tat between Union officials and Executive Appointees we see, President Pinto making the case, which I can personally attest for, that the Commonwealth’s prisons are overcrowded.

While clearing the clog in the parole system that allows releases to take up to 100 days from being granted parole will help with minuscule population cuts, this will not close housing units like Secretary Wetzel claims. When you get down to the numbers, you see the cuts that the Secretary is speaking about is 90 dollars a day. 90 dollars a day, in 1.8 billion dollar a year budget equals 32,850 dollars. When your talking about the hundred days the Secretary is talking about it equals 9,000 dollars. That is little more than a pin prick.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania needs real criminal justice reforms, not the usual Conservative claim of Ms. Currie that the PSCOA is only worried about their jobs. These small cuts are what lack teeth, not President Pinto’s words. According to a January 2011 report by the Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner, the prison population is projected to grow from 51,487 in 2010 to 61,146 by 2014. How is the 286 or so parolees clogging up the prison system going to fix the burden on the taxpayers in the face of a near 10,000 projected rise in incarceration in the next 2 years.

We have a serious problem in the Commonwealth that creative accounting, nor blaming public sector unions will fix. We need a realistic, bi-partisan effort to fix the problem that the Correction system faces in Pennsylvania. The entire structure must be examined and a concerted effort to make real improvements must be made. Prison’s are not a place to invest taxpayers money, you do not see a return from the money you put in. Think of the money that is being unnecessarily diverted from education, public welfare, public roads and other budgets that contribute to the common good. Until we find a way to control the current overcrowding and future projections for our prison population, arguing over 90 dollars a day will do nothing but distract us from the necessary course.

A Few Cutting Remarks

Throughout the country, the taxpayers have been revolting. Shocked by the enormity of the taxpayer revolt, and the untimely retirement of several hundred politicians, today’s current legislators, civil servants, and business executives have suddenly became the “people’s champions.” In a parallel universe, we can report the following, just since the latest election:

— Congress got the taxpayers’ message, and cut tax-supported junkets to only 15 per member. “The people have spoken,” said Rep. Horace Sludgepump from the Bahamas where he was on a fact-finding tour for the Maritime subcommittee. However, Rep. Sludgepump cautions that forcing Congressmen to stay at home and work for a living could bring chaos to the nation. Nevertheless, he promises to cut expenses even further three months before the next election.

— The Department of Defense was able to significantly reduce its budget by cutting back on the hours its golf courses and officers clubs were open. Complaining about the cuts were tax-reforming members of Congress whose districts were in the golf club re-appropriation. However, they were voted down by congressmen from Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota who were pleased to tell their constituents there would be new naval bases in their states.

— The Governor’s office announced that although the administration was forced to make severe cuts in education and human services, by strict cost-counting measures it was able to maintain staff salaries, and keep off the unemployment lines 125 administrative assistants, 265 executive assistants, 835 assistants to the administrative assistant, and 1,255 deputy special assistants.

— The budget cuts directly affect the nation’s 200,000 homeless veterans. But, there’s an upside to this. Sixty-three-year-old Cpl. Willie Joe Lumpkin, a veteran of the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, re-enlisted. “After being downsized three times in the past decade and having the bank foreclose on my mortgage,” says Lumpkin, “at least I now have a bed and meals.” Lumpkin is expected to have shelter in Afghanistan for at least the next year.

— The president of Mammoth State University said that it too will cut expenses. Beginning next semester, the university will eliminate the departments of history, journalism, and philosophy, recruit high school students with at least a “C-” average who are willing to pay the increased tuition rates, add low-paid graduate assistants to teach megasection classes formerly taught by full-time professors, and cut the library budget by 35 percent. When asked if those changes weren’t severe, the President replied, “We tried to be as humane as possible. We allowed our 1,249 administrators to keep their jobs, have maintained our $6 million football program without restriction, and added three more PR people to better explain the mission of the university.”

— Slagheap World Airlines announced that in the spirit of national cost cutting, it would cut back its cockpit crew to one pilot and eliminate flight attendants, meals, and life rafts. “This way,” said the president, “we won’t have to penalize our loyal stockholders by lowering our return on investment.”

— The Association of American Landlords, which had lobbied extensively against annual safety inspections and property tax increases because they would be unfair to their tenants who would be required to pay higher rents, has also made concessions. Beginning September, in the spirit of tax reform, the landlords will sub-divide all apartments, and raise rents only 10 percent. “Sharing a bathroom and kitchen will bring people closer together,” said the Association president from his McMansion Media Room.

— Newspapers have been swept up in the spirit of reform. At the Daily Bugle, publisher Ben “Cash” Fleaux, from his villa in Bermuda, announced that his newspaper was forced to eliminate stories about local government, consumer and environmental reporting, and news of the courts when it cut its editorial staff by half in order to maximize profits during the Recession. To compensate, the Bugle is running more PR releases and added more stories about celebrities in rehab.

— The medical insurance industry, in keeping with the spirit of cost cutting, today announced it was cancelling coverage for 25 percent of its subscribers. “We hated to do it,” said an insurance spokesperson, “but some people insist on getting catastrophic illnesses, and that’s unfair to the rest who are healthy and don’t apply for benefits.”

— Finally, Dr. Guy Nacologist, the state’s richest obstetrician, announced that in keeping with the spirit of tax reform, he was now requiring all his patients to deliver their babies in eight months, thus saving a full month. When asked if he had also considered lowering his fees, he looked at the reporter, and then pointedly proclaimed that with the increase in country club fees, his patients were lucky he didn’t raise their costs by a similar amount.

[Walter Brasch says that since columnists are the soul of a newspaper, they should be downsized only after the last editor shuts off the lights in the newsroom. He reminds his readers that without their support, he’s likely to become unemployed and a burden on their hard-earned tax dollars. His next book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, available at amazon.com and other stores after June 20. Also check out his YouTube video.]


Is Obama Insane?

The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results.  President Obama continues rolling out important positions on critical issues where he begins in the middle and ends up on the right.  He is wholly incapable of staking out any progressive positions and forcing Republicans to meet in the middle.  His style isn’t compromise but capitulation.  Today he will do so again in his address on the budget deficit.

First of all we need to understand this isn’t a spending problem but a revenue one.  The failed Republican economic policies which crashed the global economy eliminated vast streams of revenues.  Combined with massive tax cuts for the richest 1% and unpaid for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan our deficit ran to $1.3 trillion under George W. Bush.  President Obama inherited that budget and then proceeded to make it worse by agreeing to an extension of the tax cuts, an escalation of the war in Afghanistan and then added yet another war in Africa.  While his economic policies have turned around a very dismal employment situation the added jobs have barely kept pace with population growth because the stimulus was too small and hasn’t been followed up with more.  Instead he is cutting spending, a policy which will reverse the growth we could be seeing.

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.  Either Obama isn’t expecting different results, meaning these ARE his positions and he isn’t really a Democrat, or he’s gone insane.

Dems Cave, Shutdown Averted

Speaker Boehner and the GOP decided to take the government hostage and, once again, President Obama paid them off.  This time it was to the tune of $40 billion in non-discretionary spending.  If we’re going to slash spending the Pentagon is ripe for hundreds of billions but, instead, crucial programs are cut.  Republicans used the threat of defunding Planned Parenthood to gain another billions dollars.  How about we hold the Defense Department hostage next time and insist they be cut?  We can afford three wars but not food stamps?

Budgets are about priorities, about what each side deems important.  While a nice guy Barack Obama has no balls.  He doesn’t hold anything sacred except his re-election.  We don’t, as yet, know everything he tossed onto the garbage heap but I’m not confident.  We cannot keep paying off the hostage takers because Boehner keeps coming back for more.  When will we draw the line?  Obama should have held his ground and dared them to shut down the government.  He then went over to the Lincoln Memorial and bragged about it still being open today.  I’m more concerned about the women of DC who now won’t have access to abortion services.  That stone statue of Lincoln is weeping at a fancy pants president with no backbone.

News & Notes March 7, 2011

It’s shaping up to be a big week.  Tomorrow Gov. Corbett will unveil his budget encompassing a reported $2.5 billion in cuts.  Expect sweeping rollbacks in state aid to education.  In one fell swoop Corbett may undo all the progress made in eight years under Ed Rendell.  The state has spent decades cutting education funding while increasing mandates to schools.  This simply passes the buck to school property taxes.  Corbett and the Repubs aren’t likely to change their game plan.

Sen. Bob Casey was in Sinking Spring to stump for Judy Schwank in the special election held next week.  The event was at the IBEW so I didn’t attend.  I don’t support unions who pour thousands of dollars into Republican campaigns.  The electricians should be looking to Wisconsin to see the end result of such misguided spending.

With the Governor’s budget due out tomorrow and the PA-11 election a week away will Larry Medaglia support austerity spending, cuts to local schools and the resulting increases in property taxes?  With his no new taxes pledge the Berks County Register of Wills is on record as not supporting a tax on the extraction of gas or the closing of corporate tax loopholes.  Closing the Delaware Loophole alone would increase revenues substantially and force major corporations doing business in Pennsylvania to pay their fair share.  Most pay little or nothing and this isn’t fair to state businesses competing against them for business.

I hear calls, from both left and right, for military intervention in Libya.  This is reckless.  The establishment of a no fly zone without UN authority is an act of war.  We know Ghaddafi would then attack American forces and we know he has that capability.  Firing rockets at Naval forces and shooting down American jets would draw us into a civil war in which would become another Vietnam or Iraq.  Very bad policy and very bad judgment.

More fallout from news that fracking fluid is radioactive, something I’ve been pointing out for months, is that now public water systems are going to begin testing drinking water for radioactivity.  I have to say, as a kayaker, I’m worried about paddling Pennsylvania rivers at this point.  We know, for example, that trucks filled with waste fracking fluid are coming from New York state to Pennsylvania water treatment systems such as Fogelsville, and that these systems are totally inadequate for treating such fluids.  Radioactivity is just one of the things they cannot treat, heavy metals and toxic substances are others.  Treating sewage sludge is quite different from treating fracking fluids.  How much poison is being dumped into our rivers?  Millions and millions of gallons per river folks.  Millions…

I watched CNN interview Republican consultant Ed Rollins this morning.  I was so disgusted with their failure to challenge his lies I turned it off.  Rollins repeated the oft told myth that the stimulus was a failure.  In fact it saved all these austerity budgets in the states for two years and saved or created over 3 million jobs.  Almost every working American got a tax cut in the bill.  If CNN isn’t capable of challenging false statements made on the air it shouldn’t be on the air.

BP has stopped paying local people damaged from its giant oil spill last year.  They are reneging (surprise, surprise!) on their obligations.

Social Security: If You Can’t Kill The Program, Screw The People

There’s a lot of ways to be petty and cheap and stupid, and a lot of ways to stick it to a program you don’t like, and by extension, the clients of that program…and this week the House Republicans have embarked on an effort to combine the two into one petty, cheap, and stupid way to stick it to the clients of Social Security and the workers who administer the program.

They’re going to sell it to you, if they can, as a way to “lower the deficit”, or words similar…but what this is really about is making the actual Social Security program work less well-because, after all, if a program is popular today, the best way to make it less so is to apply a bit of “treat ’em like their cars were impounded” to every interaction customers have with the system.

And what better way to make sure that happens…then to aggressively demoralize everyone who works down at the ol’ Social Security office?

The foot less prompt to seek the morning dew,

The heart less bounding at emotion new,

And hope, once crushed, less quick to spring again.

–From Thyrsis, by Matthew Arnold

So here’s the deal, short and sweet: Social Security is amazingly efficient at running an annuity and income support program, both at the same time; in fact, in 2009 the Social Security Administration Old-Age and Survivors’ Benefit Program took in not quite $700 billion and disbursed $564 billion, writing checks to and serving millions of customers at the same time…and they did this with administrative expenses of about $3.4 billion-and that’s just about .6% of the distributions, all of this according to the Report of the Social Security Trustees for 2009.

In the private sector, companies who provide annuities have administrative costs that range from 50% to 500% higher. (Of course, Social Security doesn’t have to pay sales commissions.)

The Social Security folks are similarly frugal with the Disability Insurance Program (expenses run 2.3% of distributions), and if you combine the two the total is .9%.

Nonetheless, the plan from the House Republicans, who want to return to balanced budgets right now, if they are to be believed, is to cut $1.7 billion of those administrative costs from a budget of just under $12 billion in the remaining 7 months of the fiscal year, and, according to the involved union, that means in those next 7 months workers will have to take three weeks worth of furlough days to make that work.

If my quick math is correct it means they hope to close the office about 10% of the time while expecting the same amount of work to be done, which is probably not going to happen.

The likely end result will be callers who can’t get through without more of a struggle, checks that may or may not get out on time, an angry workforce, and a general result that equals more and more people saying “Social Security sucks”-and if you ask me, that’s the real goal of this effort: to make Social Security unpopular, thus setting the stage for more cuts to come later.

And just to put all this in perspective, we today give subsidies totaling about $4 billion a year to oil companies, apparently because gold-plated caviar is really, really, expensive, and the same budget-conscious House Republicans…every single one of ’em…voted to protect that subsidy just a couple of days ago.

Social Security workers were out yesterday handing out leaflets to describe what’s going on, although as far as I know the leaflets didn’t say that this is just one more part of a giant plan that’s already raising its ugly head in places like Wisconsin and Indiana and Ohio and New Jersey: start a war against one group of American workers by claiming they’re not “real” workers or that they’re “special, extra-privileged” workers…and try to drag down all workers in the process.

A cut like this is a shot at these workers, and, by extension, all workers who might, you know, like a raise some day-and it’s also a shot at you, or your parents, or your grandparents, who will eventually have to deal with the results of all the cutting.

But in the end, it’s important to look at the bright side: the gold-plated caviar market will still be protected, thanks to that $4 billion a year in cash we’re donating to oil companies-and if I had to guess, BP’s senior management will not be looking at longer wait times the next time they call Louie Gohmert or Joe Barton or any one of a few dozen other Members who evidently represent Big Oil first…and Americans last.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This post was written with the support of the CAF State Blogger’s Network Project.

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Obama: D or R?

I was on another White House conference call this afternoon, this one on the budget, which simply infuriated me.   If I want to hear Republican talking points I’ll go listen to Republicans.  I don’t need to keep hearing them from Obama White House officials.  Today’s call had Gene Sperling and David Plouffe bragging about how the austerity budget embraced by the President so he looks like a Tea bagger is a throwback to the Eisenhower era.  Does this mean Barack Obama rejects The Great Society?  I hate to tell you but the 1950’s were NOT a golden era.

They kept reciting banalities like “get our fiscal house in order,” tighten our belts,” live within our means,” and “we’ll have to cut some things that are worthwhile.”  Yes, like heating assistance for the poor.  Working people, women, and minorities are taking a beating under this President.  Tax cuts for the rich, one of the single biggest contributors (along with the Pentagon, the wars and the recession) are the largest reasons for the deficit.  The issue isn’t spending it’s revenues.  Obama kept the horrendously expensive tax cuts for the richest 2% and is paying for them by freezing the poor and the elderly.  How socialistic!

If you don’t fully appreciate that go read this article about the vast schism between rich and poor in America.

There was one word I kept listening for today and I didn’t hear it uttered once:  JOBS.  Instead of advocating for another Keynesian stimulus plan to do things such as rebuild infrastructure, you know, things like gas lines in Allentown, all I heard were GOP talking points.  Last week Obama went to the Midwest and said the government needs to do what American families do:  live within our means.  Since when did American families live within their means?  Has he looked at consumer debt levels?  Americans have been feasting on all sorts of debt for decades.  The housing bubble was fueled partly by people cashing in on their perceived equity to buy SUV’s, lavish weddings, plasma TV’s and exotic vacations.  We’ve never lived within our means and to suggest so makes me wonder about the President’s connection with reality.  All this does is make him appear to be a Republican.

Test Scores Show Rendell Education Policies Effective

Gov. Rendell had the state’s PSSA scores released early as part of the budget battle in Harrisburg.  Pennsylvania continues trying to operate without a budget which means state employees are working without pay.  Aside from Senate Democrats the only exception to this are those staffers in the Capitol.  Why should they get paid when no one else is?  Maybe they’d be hungrier to get a budget passed if they were actually hungry.  Oh wait, they can eat for free at the Capitol cafe on the taxpayer dime.  Maybe it’s time to cut that off too.  We do need to save money.

The primary issue in the budget battle is education funding.  This has been the cornerstone of Ed Rendell’s two terms as Governor and he has raised funding for education by a billion dollars.  Senate Republicans want to balance the budget by gutting education.  This is the easy, coward’s way out because it passes the buck for tax increases to local school boards.  The rigid ideology of these people will not allow them to vote for tax increases.  Therefore our children will pay the price.

What these legislators need to consider when defending their business and corporate constituents is that an uneducated workforce costs far more than a poorly educated one.  This costs more money in training, lost jobs because other businesses go elsewhere, and inefficient workers.  It actually is better for business to have an educated workforce.  Why are Republicans trying to screw their chief backers?  This doesn’t make sense.

The PSSA scores show that significant progress has been made in Pennsylvania’s schools.  In 2002 math proficiency was 50%, now it is 56%.  Science sees improvement from 59% to 65%.  Of course it helps that Dover prevailed in keeping evolution in its science curriculum.  When we teach myths and fables instead of science our children suffer.

August is just around the corner and the impasse in Harrisburg is serious.  Gov. Rendell is considering a stopgap budget so state services don’t cease and hard working people can be remunerated for their efforts.  Vendors and contractor deserve to be paid for their goods and services too so their employees do not wind up on our already bloated unemployment rolls.  Of course the Republicans keep voting against extensions of those benefits so they likely are not going to be swayed by economic arguments.  Perhaps if they had been better educated they could comprehend that educational success benefits everyone.  They needed Ed Rendell as Governor when they were in school.

Congress Passes Obama Budget With Some Revisions

A landmark budget emphasizing energy, education and healthcare passed the House of Representatives.  No Republican, not one, voted for this action.  The new budget does away with accounting and financial gimmickry which for years hid the real spending choices.  This new budget heralds a new day of priorities for all Americans rather than just the rich.

In contrast the GOP alternative is more of the same failed policies enriching the rich at the expense of all the rest of us:

“The House Republican budget, introduced April 1 by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), calls for a massive transfer of resources from the broad majority of Americans to the nation’s wealthiest individuals and corporations.  

It provides the richest households with a new round of very costly tax reductions by extending the Bush high-income tax cuts and adding another set of tax cuts that are particularly large at the top of the income scale (as well as a cut in corporate taxes).  To help pay for these tax cuts, the proposal eliminates Medicare and Medicaid in their current forms, imposes large reductions on other domestic programs, and apparently repeals the Making Work Pay tax credit.

In addition, by cutting spending starting in the fiscal year that begins in October – when the economy almost certainly will still be weak – the House Republican budget would likely prolong and deepen the recession, already the worst since the Great Depression.”

Why are we not surprised?  On April 1st the House Republicans exposed to the world what fools they are by trying to present an alternative budget proposal with not a single number within.  Their crafted opposition budget, finally released in some form, tries to continue the radical economic policies which have bankrupted the global economy.  Obviously they still think we’re all fools.

Congressman Jason Altmire released this statement following last night’s vote:

“The budget I voted for today is a true accounting of the financial condition of our country. It makes the difficult choices that are required to get our economy back on track.  Unlike the budgets of previous Congresses, this is an honest budget that does not use gimmicks to hide bad news.

“This budget puts America back on the path to fiscal responsibility. It reduces our nation’s deficit by two-thirds over the next five years, cuts taxes for middle class families, and for the first time, includes comprehensive reform of the key issues that are driving our nation’s deficit and that have been left out of previous budgets: health care, energy and education. We will never be able to reign in costs and balance our budget unless we make health care more affordable, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and improve America’s schools to make us more competitive in the global economy.

“I am proud that this budget provides the VA with its largest funding increase in history to ensure that our veterans receive the highest quality health care and all the benefits they have earned.  Because of this budget, 500,000 Priority Group 8 veterans who previously were unable to get health care from the VA will now be able to do so.”

Congressman Joe Sestak had this to say:

WASHINGTON, DC-On April 2, 2009, Congressman Joe Sestak (Pa-07) voted for H. Con. Res. 85, the Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, which the House of Representatives passed by a vote of 233 to 196. The Congressman supported this bill because it institutes key strategic investments in education, energy, and health care needed to retool our economy to be competitive in the future, while continuing the necessary actions already underway to promote recovery from the present global economic challenge. The budget resolution provides a strong framework for overcoming our immediate financial crisis and laying the groundwork for our future prosperity. However, while Congressman Sestak did vote for the bill because of its needed priorities in reclaiming a competitive economy, he does not agree with two procedural aspects of the House budget resolution, and intends to continue to work on changing them as the budget process proceeds:

·       First, the House Budget resolution includes a procedure called “reconciliation”, which effectively means that a bill can pass both the House and the Senate on a straight party-line vote.  In this resolution, the House included provisions allowing reconciliation procedures to be used for votes on reforming health care and education. These issues are too important to be decided by a straight party vote, particularly in health care which accounts for one-seventh of the Nation’s economy. All parties deserve a substantive voice in the debate, which can only benefit from having both parties involved.  Furthermore, if needed reform is to be long-lasting, a one party decision will have neither the broad support of a significant number of citizens, nor will it be long-lasting as parties change control.

·       Second, Congressman Sestak did support the House’s use of economic assumptions from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) rather than the Administration’s assumptions (which were more optimistic, and less realistic, according to “blue chip” economists).  However, while the Administration’s submitted budget was notable for the significant reduction of often-used budgetary “gimmicks” that hid the true costs of budget proposals, the House budget resolution is less transparent and effectively keeps a number of actions “off-budget.” Specifically, the House budget  reflects “policy reserve funds” that are not included in the budget deficit for actions to improve Medicare payments, bring about Middle Class Tax Relief, permanently index the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), and reform the Estate and Gift Tax.  The deficit impact – while minimal in 2010 — grows to about $200 billion in 2014. While the House provisions require that the House must approve Pay-Go language for these provisions (where resources must be found prior to approving these actions) prior to their being brought forward in the future, it does not include the Senate.  That means that unless the Senate also approves Pay-as-you-go offset provisions, these actions could contribute to the deficit in future years.  Congressman Sestak will continue to work so that both parties have a constructive role in the debates on health care and education reform and that the true costs of legislative actions are fully transparent and communicated to the American people.

Ultimately, Congressman Sestak voted for the House Budget because he believes it is important to focus this year primarily on ending the recession as quickly as possible by the beginning of next year, while strategically investing in the key reforms of health, education and energy needed to make our economy competitive once the recession ends.  This bill does this by adding only minimally to the deficit in FY 2010.  However, as this recession ends, Congressman Sestak will work to address the long-term structural funding issues that cause America’s budget to become unsustainable by 2019 if these problems are not addressed, which include the correct approach to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other mandatory funding, without affecting the benefits provided. Specifically, the House Budget:

·       builds on the actions taken as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the Stimulus Bill) to prevent job losses and rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and energy independence for the future;

·       begins the strategic investment we must make on health care reform that is necessary to lower costs, improve quality, and expand coverage for the 46 million Americans who now lack health insurance and costs this country more than $100 billion annually in lost productivity;

·       provides investment for rebuilding our educational system to provide an educated and skilled workforce able to function effectively in the future;

·       reduces energy dependence and new jobs for the future by increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency by 18% over 2009; and

·       reduces the deficit by 50% over the next five years.

“I want to make it clear to my constituents that I view this Nation’s economic priorities and strategic investments as a two-stage process,” said Congressman Sestak. “First, we must be aggressive up front in confronting this economic crisis. If we do not act boldly now, we will face much larger-not smaller-deficits in the future. And our stimulus measures must take the form of strategic investments-as the President has advocated and the House has included in its budget-in education, energy, and health care. These investments now will pay tremendous dividends in the future, in the form of greatly reduced energy and health care costs and a healthy, productive, competitive workforce that will drive our economic prosperity in the future. The second phase is to address the longer term, ‘structural deficit’ that the President has inherited, in the form of unsustainable spending for mandatory entitlements. We will take the necessary steps to revitalize our economy now and then focus our efforts and attention on entitlement reform to reduce the deficit, taking into account social security, Medicare, Medicaid and other programs without losing benefits for those who are recipients of these programs.”

A summary of the bill (provided courtesy of Congressman Sestak’soffice):

Bill Summary

The House Budget Resolution provides for $3.55 trillion in total spending in FY 2010, 3% less than the Administration’s budget, with a deficit of $1.22 trillion in 2010.  The five year plan calls for a reduction in the federal deficit to a level of $598 billion by FY 2014 (this does not include the approximately $200 billion in “reserve funds” mentioned above.  Specific provisions include:

·       Fiscal Responsibility:  The House Resolution takes the inherited record budget deficit of approximately $1.2 trillion in 2009 and reduces it by 50% in 5 years.  However, by 2019 the budget deficit is forecast to be equivalent to 82% of GDP, and rising; this makes the budget unsustainable, which is why — once the needed priorities in this budget move us quickly through the present recession — the long-term structural causes of the growing deficit must be addressed.  Of note, the FY2010 budget adds minimally to the deficit, preserving the ability to  best address the driving factors behind our long-term deficits as the recession ends.

·       Economic Recovery:  As noted, the House Resolution builds on the efforts, particularly the Economic Stimulus, which passed earlier this year, by including tax relief to middle class families, creating jobs through infrastructure investments, investing in education, health care reform and modernization, and investments in energy independence. These investments slow unemployment and aid working Americans and in doing so help to restart a cycle of positive economic growth.

·       Defense Funding: The House Budget Resolution improves America’s defense security by providing a 4% increase in Defense Department spending in FY 2010.  This matches the President’s proposed Defense spending level.

·       Veterans’ Care: The House Resolution calls for an 11.5% increase in funding for Veterans’ Programs, to include improvements in health care services, benefits, and services.  The resolution also states that the Veterans’ Administration should not be authorized to bill private insurance companies for veterans’ service related injuries.

·       Health Care:  The House Resolution, similar to the President’s budget, establishes a reserve fund for health care reform. This resolution also states that health care reform should be deficit neutral and covered under the PAY GO rules instituted by the Democratic Caucus in 2007, though it leaves the specific figures up to the respective House Committees as they make decisions on what to include in health care reform and how to find appropriate funding to do so.  The health care initiative in the House Resolution focuses on improving efficiency, investing in preventative care and health education as well as addressing access and cost issues.

·       Energy:  The House Resolution contains numerous provisions which build upon many of the energy initiatives included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) (Economic Stimulus Bill) passed earlier this year including: modernizing the electricity grid to make it more efficient, secure, and reliable; loans for renewable energy power generation; increasing the energy efficiency of federal buildings; and assisting states and local governments in becoming more energy efficient.   Provisions include an 18% increase in energy programs above FY 2009 funding levels, a reserve fund which accommodates fiscally responsible legislation to promote energy independence, and funding for new energy initiatives which will improve our nation’s energy efficiency and independence.   The House Resolution does not address cap-and-trade provisions for energy and environmental betterment, but it will be an important part of this year’s actions to address climate change and alternative energy.

·       Education: The House Resolution accommodates the President’s strong investment in education initiatives.  The resolution increases available funding for Head Start and Individuals with Disabilities Act, improves the affordability of college by providing a proposal to raise the maximum Pell grant award, increases education funding for targeted services which raise student achievement, and provides funds for a comprehensive literacy initiative. With 200,000 individuals failing to attend college every year because it is unaffordable to them, and 82% of jobs by 2020 requiring a college degree, these investments in education are necessary to protect our economic strength.

·       Oversight:  As part of the effort to improve accountability and transparency to the spending and execution of government funds, the House Resolution includes provisions which direct all House Committees to review programs within their jurisdiction to root out waste, fraud, and abuse in program spending.