Budget Cuts

Paul Ryan Went On Fox News To Defend Amtrak Safety Funding. It Didn’t Go Well.

Paul Ryan on Fox News Channel

Paul Ryan on Fox News Channel | CREDIT: FOX NEWS

THINK PROGRESS

At least seven people died and 200 were injured in Tuesday’s Amtrak train crash in Philadelphia — even though technology exists that could have prevented the tragedy. A day after his Republican colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee voted along party lines to cut about one-fifth of Amtrak’s budget, House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) incorrectly claimed that Congress had already funded implementing the safety system it mandated in 2008.

Positive Train Control (PTC) would allow railroads to use GPS to stop or slow trains in cases of driver emergencies, switches left in the wrong position, hijacking, natural disasters, or other human error. Seven years ago, Congress enacted the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which required the nation’s busiest railroad operators to have these technologies fully in place by December 2015. Though Amtrak’s president has called PTC “the most important rail safety advancement of our time,” the chronicallycash-strapped Amtrak has struggled to put in place its Advanced Civil Speed Enforcement System (ACSES) PTC technology system on the timetable it planned and the section of track where Tuesday’s accident occurred lacks it. The train was reportedly traveling at more than 100 miles per hour in a 50 MPH zone. Robert Sumwalt, the National Transportation Safety Board official leading the investigation into Tuesday’s crash, made clear on Wednesday, “Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed on this section of track, this accident would not have occurred.”

Paul Ryan, who has made budget cuts a top priority, warned in a Fox News interview on Thursday that Congress cannot “rush to judgment and try doubling the size of government programs” in response to what he believes was “human error.”

Ryan noted that Congress had already “authorized and mandated the sort of speed control systems to be put in place,” though he noted “it wasn’t put in place here at this time.” Asked by Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade whether Congress had actually funded those systems, Ryan claimed that they had.

“Yes!” Ryan responded, “Yeah, we already passed an Amtrak funding, an authorization bill earlier this year. And the appropriations process is working its way through right now.”

Ryan did not note that this appropriation would be well below Amtrak’s request which had included millions for PTC — and below even the past several years’ funding levels. And if Congress had provided the necessary funds to install PTC across the country, there would be no need for a Senate bill filed just weeks ago to delay the implementation deadline from December 2015 to 2020.

Watch the video:

Ryan said he hoped “cooler heads can prevail” and “people won’t seize on political opportunities out of tragedies like this” to spend more money. Asked whether he thought rebuilding America’s infrastructure should be a priority, Ryan noted that the Highway Trust Fund goes bankrupt later this month but that he would not back tax increases for infrastructure improvement as “we can do better by saving more money [and] being more efficient.”

NIH director: Budget cuts delayed Ebola vaccine, treatment

Francis S. Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) | attribution: Information Technology Innovation Foundation/Flick

For all those followers of the scare-mongering GOP, let this sink in for a minute or two…

Daily Kos

Here are the results of austerity, and of a Republican Party hell-bent on proving government can’t work by starving it. From Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Institute of Health:

“NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It’s not like we suddenly woke up and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here,'” Collins told The Huffington Post on Friday. “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”It’s not just the production of a vaccine that has been hampered by money shortfalls. Collins also said that some therapeutics to fight Ebola “were on a slower track than would’ve been ideal, or that would have happened if we had been on a stable research support trajectory.”

“We would have been a year or two ahead of where we are, which would have made all the difference,” he said.

Funding for the NIH since 2004 has been stagnant; $28.03 billion in FY2004, and $29.31 billion last year. That represents a 23 percent loss of purchasing power. The funding gap is even more disturbing for the agency within the NIH that deals most directly with infectious diseases, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, which has been slashed in the past decade from $4.3 billion to $4.25 billion. As Collins said, it’s not as if the research community in the U.S. didn’t know Ebola was the massive infectious disease crisis that it is—it’s been hobbled by Republicans indiscriminately slashing budgets to try to get more tax cuts to the rich.

There is no private investment in finding an Ebola vaccine, so it’s got to come from government. That could still be a couple of years away. That’s on the prevention side, but the funding cuts have hurt on the therapeutic side, as well. Collins says, that while there’s a drug cocktail that’s so far proving promising for treatment, it hasn’t been fully tested and there just isn’t enough of it, again thanks to budget cuts. “Had it not been for other shortages, we might very well by now know that it works and have a large stock of it,” he told Huffington Post.

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The Republican stranglehold on the budget has to end.

Stewart Praises Budget Deal: Hallelujah! A Break From All the ‘Congressional F*ckery!

Mediaite

It’s been so long since Congress actually compromised on something, Jon Stewart seemed almost giddy Wednesday night that there’s a budget deal that could very well pass. Stewart even played “Hallelujah” in celebration, though quite frankly, absolutely no one on either side is really happy about this.

Stewart fully expected to do another cursory look at “today’s congressional f*ckery” but was legitimately surprised at the “witchcraft” that must have led to this deal. He mocked all the piling on the deal prior to reading what was actually in it, and John Oliver stridently declares the deal is so good, it “ranks up there with the Civil Rights Act.”

But let’s face it, this isn’t a sexy story, so in the second segment of the show, Jason Jones tried to make it more like Die Hard, but buzzkills like NBC’s Chuck Todd ruined all the fun for him.

Watch the first segment below, via Comedy Central:

Pope Francis slams super salaries for the rich while the poor survive on “crumbs”

Pope Francis (Credit: AP/Domenico Stinellis)

The current budget brokered by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is up for a vote today.  It will be interesting to see if it passes both houses.

Giving more tax break to the rich and cutting subsidies for the underemployed and poor seems to be a bipartisan effort these days.

Salon

Pope Francis has made yet another strongly worded statement on growing inequality and economic justice, this time slamming outsized salaries and bonuses for corporate executives while others survive on “crumbs.”

In a message to mark the Catholic Church’s World Peace Day, Francis called on international leaders and corporate executives to implement “effective policies” to bridge the growing wealth gap.

“The grave financial and economic crises of the present time … have pushed man to seek satisfaction, happiness and security in consumption and earnings out of all proportion to the principles of a sound economy,” he said. ”The succession of economic crises should lead to a timely rethinking of our models of economic development and to a change in lifestyles,” he said.

Rush Limbaugh has yet to comment, but presumably he thinks President Obama is currently having an orgasm somewhere.

 

Boehner And McConnell: Our Way Or We Break Medicare

Boehner And McConnell: Our Way Or We Break Medicare

Boehner And McConnell: Our Way Or We Break Medicare

Despicable bullies come to mind when I see how members of Congress will stop at nothing to get their way…

TPM

Your big Obamacare story of the day is that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell won’t recommend commissioners to the Independent Payment Advisory Board — a panel designed to contain Medicare spending — as the law asks them to.

This isn’t a huge surprise given how, er, eager Republicans have been to smooth Obamacare implementation in general. But it’s more revealing, and just as ironic, as their other efforts to break or hinder the law before it takes full effect.

It’s not just that Boehner and McConnell hate Obamacare and it’s not just that they’re hypocrites about spending. What they’re saying with their actions is that if they can’t convert Medicare from a single-payer into a private insurance system, they’d rather the whole thing collapse under its own weight. President Obama’s and Paul Ryan’s Medicare plans both envision budget caps for Medicare — the difference is that Ryan wants to let private insurers enforce it while Obama leaves the task to providers, with IPAB as a backstop. The parties are actually in about the same place fiscally with respect to Medicare, but unless reaching a more sustainable trajectory means privatizing the program, Republicans will try to keep it unsustainable.

Unfortunately for them, the story’s not that simple. The GOP can’t straightforwardly nullify or hobble IPAB by withholding or blocking nominees, the way it can and does with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board. The IPAB can seemingly function with fewer than 15 confirmed members, and even if Senate Republicans filibuster all nominees, the ACA includes a backstop that basically allows the Health and Human Services Secretary to act as a one-woman payment board. So just as states’ rights-loving governors are ceding their sovereignty to the federal government instead of setting up insurance exchanges of their own, Boehner and McConnell are effectively handing power to the executive branch in lieu of doing what the law asks them and maintaining influence over the policy.

Now that may not be a power that the Obama administration wants to exercise. And its not one that’ll necessarily remain in Democratic hands forever. So it’s not a perfect alternative to IPAB. But it’s also not a win-win for Boehner and McConnell. The GOP base might appreciate it, but it’s probably counter to their substantive interests.

12 Programs Congress Refuses To Save From Automatic Spending Cuts

This list puts Congress’ apathy toward the American people into perspective…

Think Progress

After thousands of flight delays across the country this week, the United States Senate voted Thursday night to give the Federal Aviation Administration the flexibility to keep the nation’s airports running smoothly. The delays were caused by the furlough of air traffic controllers, who were rotating off the job because of sequestration’s automatic budget cuts that began taking effect on March 1. The Senate legislation, which passed the House today and will be signed by President Obama, will allow the FAA to shift the burden of its cuts around, removing the need for controller furloughs and the delays that come with them.

That means lawmakers will be able to fly home for recess this weekend without any delays — and tourists and people who travel for business won’t have to experience the delays either. Unfortunately, though, Congress has shown no willingness to provide similar relief for the families that are being hammered by sequestration in other ways. Here are 12 programs that have experienced devastating cuts because Congress insists on cutting spending when it doesn’t need to — and that have been ignored by the same lawmakers who leaped to action as soon as their trips home were going to take a little longer:

1. Long-term unemployment: There are 4.7 million Americans who have been unemployed for longer than six months, but sequestration cut federal long-term unemployment insurance checks by up to 10.7 percent, costing recipients as much as $450 over the rest of the year. Those cuts compound the cuts eightstates have made to their unemployment programs, and 11 states are considering dropping the federal program altogether because of sequestration — even though the long-term unemployed are finding it nearly impossible to return to work.

2. Head Start: Low-income children across the country have been kicked out of Head Start education programs because of the 5-percent cuts mandated by sequestration, as states have cut bus transportation services and started conducting lotteries to determine which kids would no longer have access to the program, even though the preschool program has been proven to havesubstantial benefits for low-income children. In all, about 70,000 children will lose access to Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

3. Cancer treatment: Budget cuts have forced doctors and cancer clinics to deny chemotherapy treatments to thousands of cancer patients thanks to a 2 percent cut to Medicare. One clinic in New York has refused to see more than 5,000 of its Medicare patients, and many cancer patients have had to travel to other states to receive their treatments, an option that obviously isn’t available to lower-income people. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) proposed restoring the funding, but the legislation so far hasn’t moved in Congress.

4. Health research: The National Institutes of Health lost $1.6 billion thanks to sequestration, jeopardizing important health research into AIDS, cancer, and other diseases. That won’t just impact research and the people who do it, though. It will also hurt the economy, costing the U.S. $860 billion in lost economic growth and at least 500,000 jobs. Budget cuts will also hamper research at colleges and universities.

5. Low-income housing: 140,000 low-income families — primarily seniors with disabilities and families with children — will lose rental assistance thanks to sequestration’s budget cuts. Even worse, the cuts could likely make rent and housing more expensive for those families, as agencies raise costs to offset the pain of budget cuts, and sequestration will also cut from programs that aid the homeless and fund the construction of low-income housing.

6. Student aid: Sequestration is already raising fees on Direct student loans, increasing costs for students who are already buried in debt. The budget cuts reduce funding for federal work study grants by $49 million and for educational opportunity grants by $37 million, and the total cuts will cost 70,000 college students access to grants they depend on.

7. Meals On Wheels: Local Meals on Wheels programs, which help low-income and disabled seniors access food, have faced hundreds of thousands of dollars in cuts, costing tens of thousands of seniors access to the program. Many of those seniors have little access to food without the program, but Congress has made no effort to replace the funding.

8. Women, Infant, and Children programs: WIC helps 9 million low-income women and children with nutrition and health care referrals. Among these women, the program has led to healthier births, a higher intake of important nutrients, and a strong connection to preventative services. Sequestration means that the program would have to cut off about 600,000 participants.

9. Heating assistance: The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps nearly 9 million households afford their heating and cooling bills. Sequestration will cut the program by an estimated $180 million, meaning about 400,000 households will no longer receive aid. These cuts come on top of$1.6 billion in reductions since 2010.

10. Workplace safety: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has long suffered from a lack of funds, which means its staff is so stretched that many workplaces go without an inspection for 99 years. The fertilizer plant that exploded in West, Texas, for example, hadn’t had a visit from OSHA since 1985. That will get worse, as sequestration will cut the agency’s budget by $564.8 million, likely leading to 1,200 fewer workplace inspections.

11. Obamacare: Sequestration cuts a number of important programs in the Affordable Care Act: $13 million from the Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan Program, or CO-OPs; $57 million from the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control program; $51 million from the Prevention and Public Health Fund; $27 million from the State Grants and Demonstrations program; and $44 million from the Affordable Insurance Exchange Grants program, or the insurance exchanges.

12. Child care: Child care costs can exceed rent payments or college tuition and waiting lists for getting assistance are already long. Yet sequestration will reduce funds even further, meaning that 30,000 children will lose subsidies for care. For example, Arizona will experience a $3 million cut to funding that will force 1,000 out of care.

Obama Bets Social Security Cuts That The GOP Won’t Accept His Tax Increases

This pretty much echos (in much more detail) my post from a few days ago…

Addicting Info 

Social Security Card

President Obama may be using the chained CPI as a gambit to get political leverage against Republicans for 2014 and beyond, even if he doesn’t realize it. Despite that, many people, particularly those on the left, are upset with President Obama’s decision to tie Social Security to a chained consumer price index (CPI), because it amounts to a cut in Social Security payments overall.

However, while the chained CPI is in his budget proposal, so are increased revenues from closing tax loopholes, something GOP leaders have been adamantly opposed to ever since the fiscal cliff.

Social Security payments are currently tied into the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), which means that payments increase as the CPI-W. According to theWashington Postthe CPI-W does not reflect the substitutions the average consumer makes for products and services as prices on those things increase. A chained CPI does, and thus, increases at a lower rate.

The reason changing the way Social Security payments are calculated to a chained CPI is so maddening, and why it reduces payments, is because it assumes that inflation isn’t actually happening as fast as the CPI-W says it is. So Social Security payments could eventually fall far enough behind cost of living that people would be unable to make any ends meet on Social Security. Furthermore, it’s possible that calculations regarding rising cost of living could just as easily be underestimating those increases, rather than overestimating. If this is the case, a chained CPI would be even worse for people on Social Security.

The concept has been batted around since the fiscal cliff debacle, when members of the GOP said that this type of action on the so-called “entitlements” could get them interested in revenue increases. At the time, it sounded like some halfway decent compromise might be possible, but now, the GOP has pulled back, with Mitch McConnell (R-KY) saying these reforms “are modest,” and John Boehner (R-OH) repeating his familiar refrain of no more revenue.

The Daily Beast discusses a twist in this, which is the way the chained CPI is a political gambit for Obama. He reaches out with cuts in Social Security, which the Democrats don’t want, and insists on new revenue as part of the deal. Republican leaders follow Boehner and others, refuse the revenue, and Obama gets to say, “I tried, but they won’t work with me.”

Author Michael Tomasky believes that Obama has a genuine belief that the GOP will eventually come around on revenue increases and put forth a real effort to compromise on deficit reduction, however, he also thinks that what will actually happen is the above, simply because the GOP keeps saying, over and over, that Obama got his revenue in the fiscal cliff deal, and therefore we are done with that and all there is left to discuss is spending cuts.

Tomasky is likely correct in his prediction. Another part of the chained CPI concept deals with tax brackets; the CPI-U, which is what is actually reported as “inflation,” is what the government uses to adjust tax brackets so that people don’t get pushed into higher tax brackets merely because of inflation. Under the chained CPI, the tax brackets would change more slowly, and the phenomenon known as “bracket creep” could become more common.

Grover Norquist, of Americans for Tax Reform and the Taxpayer Protection Pledge fame, calls this a tax increase, and he’s right. It would result in a tax increase on Americans over time, but more quickly than the current system.

“Bracket creep” is only part of the revenue in Obama’s budget; he still wants to close loopholes and reduce deductions for the highest income earners, something that the GOP is, and has been, adamantly against for practically forever. When these are paired with the tax increases the chained CPI represents, it does seem less likely that enough will favor Obama’s budget proposal to get it through.

The Washington Post article quotes the president as saying, “If you’re serious about deficit reduction, then there’s no excuse to keep these loopholes open.” But the GOP won’t accept closing loopholes, they won’t accept eliminating deductions, and they pretty much won’t accept anything that means increased revenue anymore, unless that revenue goes to pay for more tax cuts.

With Democrats strongly opposed to a chained CPI, and Republicans strongly opposed to more tax increases through closing loopholes and eliminating deductions for high-income earners, it’s not especially likely that his budget proposal will pass. But Tomasky’s prediction remains the likeliest: Obama’s offering an olive branch, trying to find middle ground, and GOP leaders are still balking because of the tax increases. His budget won’t go through, and not only will we not see a chained CPI, but he’ll get to point at Republicans as the stubborn ones behaving in their obstructionist manner, since he’s going against his party’s wishes to find some way to make something happen.