A Test of Principle
Amazingly Enough, The DLC Makes Sense On Estate Taxes


So before I get into the actual column itself, I just wanna tell any of you who visit the beach regularly that if you go at night, BE PREPARED for the high tide!  My friend and I went to the beach at night without prior acknowledgement of the tides and we barely made it out alive.  Now I have cuts – some of them quite large – all over my hands, legs, and feet… bleh.


Anyway, on to estate taxes.  Now, I normally would never think of actually agreeing with the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) or their Congressional division, the New Democrat Network (NDN), because I think the DLC is a piece of crap infesting the Democratic Party with harmful ideas of “moderation” (read: kowtowing to the Right).  But this time, on the issue of estate taxes, they’ve given me a pleasant surprise, not just to the point where I agree with them, but enough so that I’m actually going to repost their work.  Shock!  Well, I’m not against giving praise where praise is due – plus it saves me the work of having the write my own column.  So, without further ado, I give you the DLC…


(URL: http://www.ndol.org/ndol_ci.cfm?kaid=131&subid=192&contentid=253278)


DLC | New Dem Dispatch | April 12, 2005
A Test of Principle


Get the picture: the federal budget deficit and long-term national debt are spiraling out of control, threatening not only vital public services and the solvency of our retirement system, but the stability of our economy, increasingly in hock to foreign governments. House and Senate Republicans are deeply divided, once again, on a congressional budget resolution for next year. We’re fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, and aside from the human costs borne by brave Americans serving their country, the financial costs are rising steadily, and have not been factored into the official budget deficit estimates.

There are a whole host of pressing national challenges that need action, from rapidly increasing health care costs, to our increasing dependence on ever-more-expensive foreign oil, to a broken and increasingly corrupt political system, and on and on.

So what are the Republicans who run the U.S. House of Representatives planning to do tomorrow? Give the Paris Hiltons of this world not just another tax cut, but a complete free ride from taxation of the riches they never earned. It would almost be funny if it were not so serious a matter.

Specifically, the House is voting to make the total elimination of the federal inheritance tax, now scheduled to occur in 2010 and then vanish in 2011, permanent. This would boost the federal budget deficit by an estimated $290 billion through 2015; and by $745 billion through 2021. Add in the interest costs of borrowing the funds to pay for this measure, and the true ten-year cost is nearly $1 trillion.

Sponsors of this outrage will make three equally outrageous arguments to defend it.

The first is that failure to make this abolition permanent would represent a tax increase. The very same people, of course, advertised the original legislation as temporary, in no small part to hide its true costs. If it was temporary then, it’s temporary now, especially since we’ve had an explosion of public debt, a terrorist attack on the United States, and the deployment of hundreds of thousands of American troops overseas in the intervening period.

The second is that the inheritance tax imposes an onerous burden on owners of family farms and family-owned small businesses, forcing them to sell these assets instead of passing them on to future generations.

Even under the pre-repeal inheritance tax, with a $1 million ($2 million per couple) exemption, relatively few family farms and small business were exposed to taxation, and even fewer accorded with the conservative horror story of families being forced to sell farms and businesses to pay the tax. But moreover, virtually all Democrats have supported raising that threshold to $3.5 million (or $7 million per couple), which would exempt virtually all true family farms and small businesses, while preserving 44 percent of current inheritance tax revenues. Indeed, Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) is offering a substitute amendment in the House to do just that.

The third, and by far most pernicious, argument for eliminating inheritance taxes is that they are necessary to maintain incentives for high earners to accumulate capital. Does anyone remember the 1990s? Somehow, the United States economy created more millionaires and multi-millionaires than in any equivalent period in national history, with the inheritance tax fully in place. All the way back to the early years of the twentieth century, there has been strong bipartisan support for inheritance taxes, as a way to ensure that unearned wealth bears a fair share of the burden of government, and to prevent long-term concentrations of untaxed wealth. Indeed, the federal inheritance tax was first proposed by Theodore Roosevelt, and implemented by that famous tax-and-spend liberal, William Howard Taft.

Opposing this proposal is a matter of fiscal sanity for Congress. For Republicans, it offers a test of their seriousness about public debt, and about making the war on terrorism, not tax relief for the very wealthy, their top priority.

And for Democrats, opposing this proposal is as simple a matter of basic principle as can be imagined. Democrats should also make it abundantly clear that this giveaway decisively and permanently undercuts any argument for changes in Social Security that will add even more to the national debt and indirectly, to the obligations of our retirement system.

We don’t always share the views of some in our party who seem to want to make every single vote in Congress a test of partisan loyalty, since a party that defines itself purely in terms of the opposition’s priorities can’t make its own values clear. But this is an occasion where the positive and negative responsibilities of governing exactly coincide. Democrats should stand up to the “death tax” rhetoric that tries to make a perfectly sensible policy sound like grave-robbing, and have the courage and persistence to explain to the American people the deeply regressive nature of this proposal, which will shift the cost of government from trust-fund babies to hard-working families.

If there was ever a moment when Democrats should be loud, proud and united about exposing the skewed values of George W. Bush’s GOP, this is it.

Advertisements

The Decrepit State Of The UCSD Student Center


“Old” Center Of Student-Run Small Business Gives Way To Corporate Price Center


 


For those of you who don’t go to UC San Diego, here’s a little 411.  The main central “gathering area” for students is the Price Center, located in the south-central part of the campus between Geisel Library and Center Hall (longitudinally) and Marshall and Warren Colleges (latitudinal).  The Center features the Sun God Lounge, student government headquarters, the bookstore, the Post Office, the copy center, and a battery of corporate fast food restaurants – Subway, Rubio’s, Wendy’s, Panda Express, and Jamba Juice.  The most vibrant hub of life visible on campus, Price Center is regularly filled with socializing students (except after nine at night – and I’ve been on campus late enough to attest to that personally).


 


Contrast that with the Student Center, wedged in a rather out-of-the-way area between Mandeville Center and Muir College.  The awkward location and the fact that the Center is practically hidden by a forest on one side and fenced-off construction zones on the other are just two reasons why this place is positively dead compared to Price.  Most of the time, students (myself included) just pass through it to get from the east/central part of the campus to the western colleges (Muir, Revelle, etc.).  The halls are narrow and dark – hardly conducive to gathering or socializing – and most people (again, myself included) just pass through without noticing what’s actually there. 


 


Well, my Warren Writing 10B class’s theme is urban studies and we’ve been applying urban issues in the context of UCSD.  One of the topics that my instructor brought up on Monday was the issue of privatization/corporatization of UCSD, and one of the comparisons he raised was that Price was more corporate-dominated, whereas Student Center, with its small communist co-ops, was more student-oriented small business.  Now, don’t you ever have those times when you suddenly realize something that’s been right under your freackin’ nose the whole time?  It was like that for me.  Here I was, a steadfast consumer of Price food, and the whole time I’d been feeding a corporate octopus when there were small businesses/Ma-and-Pa shops on campus just waiting for my business!  And being the fuzzy-headed, bleeding-heart liberal that I am, of course I would support small business over Big Business (yes, Big Business is so bad it gets capital letters.).  So I decided to check out the Student Center and what it had to offer the next school day – today.


 


Turns out it didn’t have shit.


 


Granted, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time there, and I promise to go back next time I’m on campus to get a more comprehensive look.  For one thing, I completely missed that there was something called the Grove Café, which I take to be the most exciting thing in the whole damn place.  So I intend to go back and check it out.


 


But Student Center sucks period.  The corridors are dark and really un-conducive to any kind of social activity.  Corridors in general are just bad for socializing – it’d have to be not a corridor but a broad boulevard like Library Walk, and even then it still sucks in comparison to plazas and open spaces.  And it seems like every third corridor leads to a dead end, a weird closet filled with junk, or a fenced-off construction zone. (I would later learn the rather depressing reason for all the construction.)  There are few people actually hanging around – most visitors to this forsaken land are simply students passing through on their way to somewhere more beautiful.


 


Then there’s the fact that there ain’t shit.  There’s a General Store Co-op, which is the only decent store there, with school supplies, clothes, some food, and other random junk.  Then there’s the Food Co-op, which is shit.  When I went in, there were a few empty refrigerators (the kind grocery stores use to sell cold drinks) with just a few pitiful drinks left.  There were some baked goods that looked stale, resting in some dirty-looking plastic storage thingies.  Some other assorted junk and packaged foods lined on the wall.  And… that was it.


 


Disappointed – as I was looking for food at the time – I headed out and looked around for something else.  The campus radio station and Soft Reserves (which sells publications of some kind, like lecture notes or something) were located in the Student Center, but they would do nothing to satisfy my hunger.  I headed to the only other freackin place in the whole area – Porter’s Pub.


 


I had never been there, and it was weird seeing the inside for the first time.  The pub was dark, naturally, and the walls were lined with various alcohol paraphernalia, like wine/beer bottles and alcohol-related bumper stickers/plates, as well as other framed sayings.  There was a weird smell of beer and sandwiches in the air.  The menu was rather slim, consisting mostly of sandwiches with some other standard “white food” like chicken tenders and fish and chips.  I was going to order a Chicken Basket but their fryer was broken, so I had the “Hump” sandwich (BBQ roast beef) instead.  It was alright, but I had to wait forever (twenty minutes, to be exact) for the order to be completed – at one point, I was reduced to fiddling around with my cell phone in impatient hunger.


 


After that less-than-satisfying experience, I left Student Center and concluded that it was the shits.  The only saving grace is a coffee cart called The Art of Espresso that serves kick-ass coffee, but it’s located off Mandeville Center so I don’t consider it part of Student Center.


 


Later I mentioned this to my writing instructor and he brought me some startling news: the co-ops had been ordered to clear out by Friday (or so he said) to make way for the pending demolition of the Student Center.  Supposedly, that part of campus will be filled by a giant… well, something being constructed just adjacent to the Center. (Remember all that construction I was talking about earlier?) What will the new thing be?  Judging from current trends, probably some mammoth corporate whorehouse, with McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Carl’s Jr. galore. (Okay, okay, I like Starbucks.  And Carl’s Jr. too.  It’s just McDonald’s that sucks ass.)


 


I decided to do my Writing assignment on Student Center because I think it represents similar trends going on outside of UCSD – in the “outside world”, as conceited adults would tell me.  In the outside worlds, big corporations like, well, Wendy’s and Panda Express – and, though I have an affinity for it, Starbucks – are popping up all over the place and spreading like the plague across commercial sectors, whereas old-school, Ma-and-Pa small businesses are getting plowed under.  Of course, I am a product of corporate service, having grown up on Albertson’s, Kinko’s and McDonald’s, and corporate places are usually efficient, well-serviced, clean, and, well, reliable.  If you’re traveling through an unfamiliar place and have a choice between good ol’ Burger King and some place called Dan’s Diner, which would you feel “safer” with?  On the other hand, Price and the corporate outlets it sponsors feel so… sterile.  Workers are polite enough but seem like robots compared to the workers I saw at the co-ops and at Porter’s Pub.  Small businesses seem much more familial, much more… human, than corporate outlets are and, likely, will ever be.  Well, looks like robots don’t need to plot their takeover of the human race – with Price Center replacing Student Center, they, in a sense, already have.


 


On an unrelated note, I found out the results of the A.S. Elections that were held last week.  I had voted for Revolution! candidates at the top of the ticket, but a bunch of SunGod ones towards the bottom (I was mainly looking at their platforms, not voting for party, since I didn’t know shit about the campus parties.  Or campus government in general, for that matter.  For once, I was an uneducated voter.).  Turns out that I have a habit of supporting losers in U.S./California government and UCSD government as well – of ten A.S. Council positions, only one candidate I supported actually won.  That lucky person was Vice President Internal-elect Angela Fornero (Revolution!).  All of my other votes failed.  Also, there were two referenda – one to restructure A.S. so as to have campus-elected senators and one to provide more funding for student outreach programs.  I voted yes on both, and both failed. <shakes head in wonderment>

Author’s Note: I’ve long realized that my columns are extremely verbose.  To alleviate reader exhaustion, I will be putting key points in bold.  The 99.9 percent of you who don’t want to read the whole damn thing can just read the bold parts and get the general idea of the piece.


Though, looking at this particular piece, I do realize that I bolded a rather large percentage of the text…


Democratic Alternative To Punching Holes


Democrats Believe In A Strong And Fiscally Responsible Budget


 


So in the last two columns I’ve done a fair amount of Republican-bashing on fiscal policy.  Well, what do Democrats like myself propose to do instead?


 


The first thing we must look at is what should be done about the budget generally speaking.  When it comes to fiscal policy, Democrats believe in two things: healthy funding for federal programs, and fiscal responsibility.  Fiscal responsibility means an aversion to long-term, crippling deficits that place enormous strain on the government and future generations of Americans.  This could mean higher taxes when necessary (primarily on the rich), lower spending when necessary (primarily on defense and administrative costs), as well as pay-as-you-go rules that require all new spending and tax cuts to be paid for – either by special tax increases or by corresponding tax increases or spending cuts elsewhere.  In normal, non-deficit times, we Democrats are usually quick – as we should be – to propose a bunch of new spending or full-funding of existing programs – witness President Bill Clinton’s “investment” proposals as the budget moved from deficit to surplus in the late 1990s.  We are more hesitant to propose tax cuts – the tax cuts in the 1997 budget deal were the handiwork of Congressional Republicans – because tax cuts in general jeopardize funding for federal programs.  Generally speaking, funding for new or existing programs gets the lion’s share of attention in times of surplus.


 


The two essential components of Democratic fiscal policy – healthy funding for federal programs and fiscal responsibility – don’t change when surplus goes to deficit.  But the emphasis does.  Democrats still want healthy funding, but not as much as they would under surplus conditions, simply because the fiscal situation demands some restraint in spending growth.  For example, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) called for holding spending growth equivalent to inflation in last year’s presidential campaign.  This isn’t huge spending growth, but it keeps the federal budget alive and well, if not fat.  Kerry also proposed larger spending increases for the most important federal functions – education, defense, homeland security, and health care.  Republicans, on the other hand, enjoy slashing budgets whenever possible, in good times or bad.  You’ll seldom catch them wanting to increase spending to anywhere near the degree Democrats want, except on defense.  On education and homeland security, Democrats are always ahead of Republicans and demanding more spending – which is the right position, because as it is we don’t spend nearly enough on either.  And health care?  President Bush’s stance: “Don’t get a flu shot this year.”


         


Democrats usually place more emphasis on fiscal responsibility in times of deficit – which is the right thing to do.  Big, long-term deficits are bad for the U.S. government and the American people, and, contrary to what Dick Cheney says, they DO matter.  They also raise interest rates (because less money is in circulation for private individuals and businesses to borrow) which can make it harder for people to get loans for things like college education, houses, and cars.  Even worse, by placing a huge deficit on future generations, two things happen.  First, interest on the national debt accumulates and means that more of our taxpayer dollars go towards paying for this interest which does nothing for anyone or anything except the guys who we owe money to.  Already, eight percent of our multi-trillion budget goes to interest, which enriches no one except rich bankers and bond-holders.  Second, the United States’s credit will go way south, and I’m not talking about Alabama.  Investors will be hesitant to plop their money or assets down on such horrible credit.  If the United States can’t borrow money anymore to keep itself alive and running, it’s gotta look somewhere else for the extra money, and that somewhere else is gonna be your wallet and paycheck.  Either the government will cut spending for public services and programs, requiring you to pay more for either those services or their private counterparts, or it will charge the mother of all tax hikes to make up the difference.  Or a combination or both.  Either way, you’ll get screwed.


 


While these consequences are quite real and dangerous, there’s another real and dangerous consequence that isn’t often mentioned in the media: Long-term deficits cripple and hinder the federal government’s ability to fund itself and to work for the country and the people.  This effect is a consequence of a systematic Republican strategy called “starve the beast”, where deficits, usually produced by excessive arms spending and tax cuts for the wealthy, are intentionally produced and maintained so that new spending can’t be enacted without some motherfucker going “We can’t do this because of the deficit!” every five seconds.  This fits in with the Republicans’ ideological goal of wanting smaller government, but the lengths they’ll go to accomplish this goal is astounding.  Republicans are willing to rack up huge deficits that hurt the American people in order to satisfy their twisted and harmful ideology.  Democrats are fighting and will always fight to reduce deficits so as to protect the American people and maintain an active government that serves the country’s and people’s needs.


 


Democrats are usually working to reduce deficits with calls for higher taxes on the wealthy and pay-as-you-go rules.  Both ideas seem to be anathema to Republicans, who don’t want to jeopardize the fat portfolios of their wealthiest contributors or have to defend their exorbitant tax cuts with tax increases elsewhere.  Democrats realize that if the country is to pull out of debt, people must be able to contribute whatever they can for the common cause – and the rich, believe it or not, have more money to give.  We’re also not shy about reducing spending in just a few areas as well – but that’s spending that really is wasteful.  This “truly wasteful” spending Democrats are willing to pare down is usually in the form of administrative costs (think $500 toilet seats) and expensive and outdated weaponry used by the Department of Offense/Defense – not school lunches and job training, as President Reagan thought.


 


So, if we Democrats were to control this year’s budget, we would call for one that:


 


1.)   Continues to offer good funding for federal programs and functions across-the-board.  At the very least, we should hold spending increases at the rate of inflation and population growth.


2.)   Increases taxes, primarily those affecting the wealthiest 5 percent of taxpayers.  Such taxes include the estate, gift, capital gains, and dividend income taxes.  Tax increases will result in larger revenue income and help the federal government pull itself out of debt while maintaining spending.


3.)   If possible, reduce “wasteful” spending – and my definition of “wasteful” is extremely stringent.  Usually I mean those of the Department of Defense – which is now strictly charged with carpet-bombing foreign nations and spending billions on outdated weaponry – and administrative costs.  As the Clinton administration showed, reducing needless administrative costs can not only save money but also make the government work better.


4.) Insert “pay-as-you-go” budget rules that says that all spending increases or tax cuts have to be paid for with related or corresponding spending decreases or tax increases elsewhere.  This rule, which was enacted in the 1990’s but expired in 2002, was key to deficit reduction in the last decade but efforts to revive it have been repeatedly rebuffed by Congressional Republicans.


5.)   Still have modest-to-large increases in the most important discretionary functions – education, health care, homeland security, and defense (that is, the counterterrorism parts of defense, not the Blow-Up-Countries-That-Pissed-Off-My-Daddy parts).


 


Once we return to federal surpluses, we can and should similarly


return to more funding for domestic programs, both entitlement and discretionary, while continuing to ensure that all new spending is paid for.


 


The reason why I and most other Democrats are so big on domestic spending is because we Democrats acknowledge and affirm that the federal government is the primary institution responsible for the well-being of the nation and the public interest.  No other body in the country is tasked with defending the nation, ensuring that the nation is cohesive and prosperous, and that the people – all the people – of the nation are able to enjoy a reasonably safe and productive life.  In order for the federal government to meet its important and mammoth duties, it must have the muscle – i.e. money – to do the job.  Republicans believe in shortchanging the federal government through massive tax cuts for the rich.  Democrats want the federal government to be strong and fully-funded so it can protect and uphold the general welfare of the United States and the common interests of its people.

Judd Gregg: Budgetary Asshole


New Senate Budget Committee Chairman Proves To Be A Two-Faced Fiscal Hypocrite – In Other Words, Your Typical Republican


 


Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) is the new Senate Budget Committee Chairman, succeeding the previous chairman, Senator Don Nickles (R-Okla.).  Like his retired predecessor, Gregg is your typical Republican – right-wing, unwilling to use government for anything other than supporting business contributors, wanting to cut government to the bone, wants to deplete the federal Treasury of revenue through tax cuts geared towards the richest 1 percent.  But even I was astounded by the pure amount of chutzpah demonstrated by the newly-minted Budget Chairman.  Oh, Senator Gregg, if only I could be as big of an asshole as you are.


 


Before we get into the details, let’s define chutzpah:


 


Utter nerve; effrontery: “has the chutzpah to claim a lock on God and morality” (New York Times).


 


(Thank you, New York Times.  You truly went beyond the call of duty.)


 


So Gregg has a lot of nerve.  How so?  No one can explain it better than the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).  I highly recommend this website for all budget/fiscal policy nerds such as myself.  Especially if you’re a conservative; you’ll probably get quite a few shocks. (But the shocks are of the good kind, not those mean, devastating kind of shocks.) But liberals can greatly benefit from it too by not only getting some ammunition to dismantle right-wing Republican myths, but to find out juicy details on guys like Judd Gregg.


 


Oh yeah, so back to Gregg.  Well, the story of fiscal chutzpah begins when the Senate Budget Committee, chaired by Gregg, puts out a budget that orders the Senate Finance Committee to cut its expenditures by $15 billion over five years.  According to Gregg himself, most of those cuts – $14 billion, to be exact – “were assumed to come from the Medicaid program” (Source, dig deep to the third page; quote is the CBPP’s, not Gregg’s).  The cuts were ultimately too much for even Republicans to stomach, and Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) sponsored an amendment to scrap the cuts and restore funding to Medicaid, a health care program for the poor.  Smith and six other Republicans joined with the entire Democratic caucus (woot woot for Democratic unity!) to pass the amendment.  Gregg voted against it, saying the Medicaid cuts were necessary for deficit reduction.  In an earlier floor statement, Gregg stated that the reductions were miniscule, implied that the cuts represented wasteful spending and that Medicaid needed “reform” (“reform” has become the Republicans’ fancy way of saying “cuts”), and repeated the fiscal responsibility spiel:


 


It is a very doable event. The idea that it is not doable, the idea that anybody would stand up here and say we cannot cut Medicaid’s rate of growth by $14 billion off a $1.12 trillion base implies to me that individual does not have any interest in our children or our children’s children’s future because if we do not get a handle on the health care accounts in this country–and this is just a minuscule attempt to do that–we are essentially passing on to our children a no-win situation where they will never be able–never be able–to pay the cost of the retired population because we are going to grow so much and there are going to be so many of us.


If you deny this change, you are basically denying that you are willing to take on your responsibility to govern, and you are going to kick that can down the road and at some point simply not going to be able to kick it any further. It is simply going to be a bill passed on to our kids.


This.is.absolutely.mindboggling.


 


Senator Gregg seeks to lecture us on our presumed lack of fiscal discipline?  What the hell is this guy thinking when he- okay I’m getting ahead of myself.  But it does take a lot of nerve – chutzpah – to say that if we don’t want to cut Medicaid we don’t “have any interest in our children or our children’s children’s future”.  WTF.  It’s the people who want to cut Medicaid who are dumping the future of our children into the garbage disposal.  When you’re poor, what do you want the most, besides money?  Health insurance, so that if you catch pneumonia you don’t need to worry about your life savings going down the drain.  While two-thirds of Medicaid spending does go to the elderly poor, millions of families – yes, with children – depend on Medicaid to stay healthy and above bankruptcy.  Cuts to Medicaid – even the most miniscule amount – will change the fortunes of these impoverished people and throw their lives into the high-stakes, unstable, choose-between-medicine-or-food world of uninsured-ness.  Is that how we show our interest in our children or our children’s children’s future?  I don’t think so, Senator Gregg.


 


Okay, now to the second part of Chutzpah Story.  Another amendment, offered by Senator Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) was a repeal of the 1993 Social Security benefits tax.  The cost of this tax decrease was $64 billion.  The amendment passed 55 to 45, and one of those 55 douche bags was none other than Mr. Fiscal Responsibility himself, Judd Gregg.  Okay, so Gregg rants on how important fiscal responsibility is and uses it as one of several reasons to justify Medicaid cuts, yet when it comes to tax cuts he supports “spending” nearly five times more?


 


For those of you who are confused, remember that tax cuts reduce the amount of money that goes into the government, so both spending more and taxing less will take money out of government, thus increasing the deficit.  The difference is that Medicaid cuts would only decrease the deficit by $14 billion whereas Social Security tax cuts would increase the deficit by $64 billion – like I said, almost five times the amount.  So, for those of you who need me to spell it out, Gregg talked up fiscal responsibility when it came to Medicaid cuts, but when it came to tax cuts he dropped that shit like it’s hot and voted for something that went completely against fiscal responsibility.  His actions can be summed up in one word: hypocrisy.


 


Dictionary.com check:


 


          hypocrisy:


1.      The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.


2.      An act or instance of such falseness.


 


Hypocrisy.  A lovely word indeed.  And the perfect one to describe Gregg and all the other Republicans who voted for the tax cuts while voting for Medicaid cuts and ranting on fiscal discipline.


 


I can’t put it any better than the CBPP.  Now, the CBPP normally focuses on the facts, with just hints of progressive ideology mixed in, but when it does take a stand it does so in a pretty interesting fashion.  In typical tongue-in-cheek style, the CBPP report on the Senate plan explains Gregg’s hypocrisy nicely:


 


Despite the fact that Chairman Gregg criticized Senators who voted for the Smith amendment [to restore Medicaid funding] because he believed it was fiscally irresponsible to reduce proposed spending cuts by $15 billion, he and most other Senators who opposed the Smith amendment voted for the Bunning amendment [to cut Social Security benefit taxes], which increased deficits in the Senate plan by more than four times as much as the Smith amendment.


 


They say you can’t have your cake and eat it too.  Well, ladies and gentlemen, Senator Gregg has just proved us wrong.  By cutting both Medicaid funding and Social Security benefit taxes, he gets to be an asshole and a hypocrite!  Congrats, Chairman!


 


Now I may be somewhat hypocritical myself in criticizing hypocrites, since I’ve been somewhat wiffly-wafflying myself on a number of burning issues (most notably whether or not people at UCSD should take five classes).  The difference is that my flip-flop isn’t going to cost anyone his/her health care.  On the other hand, thanks to Gregg’s hypocrisy, we now have Medicaid cuts AND more deficits – the worst of both worlds – and the effects aren’t just gonna be felt by the poor stiffs.  The whole fucking country is going to pay for Gregg’s and the Republicans’ hypocrisy.  You think Gregg really cares about what’s going to happen with the children of some poor fucks he doesn’t even know?  Nay… it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and poor people are always the dogs that get eaten.  You think Gregg really cares about the country’s increasing debt – debt that in the future will not only prevent the government from doing almost anything, but will saddle our descendents with huge tax hikes and spending cuts?  Nah, because that satisfies the ideological goal held by him and almost every other Republican – the demolition of active federal government… and I guess he thinks the country’s future is but a small price to pay for such a worthy and commendable objective.


 


But for those of you who think that there’s no way my criticism will be limited to just Gregg, you’re right.  The kind of budget-slashing/fiscal responsibility hypocrisy extends to nearly all Republicans in Washington, D.C. – Congressional Republicans as well as President Bush.  The fiscal responsibility game is the same every time.  Republicans talk about how we should need to control “runaway domestic spending” so we can reduce the deficit.  But the thing is, new domestic spending is hardly the reason we have the kind of gargantuan deficit we have – the primary cause is tax cuts and defense spending.  New domestic spending – including that of the expensive entitlement programs – constitute just 15 percent of al new costs since January 2001.  When it comes to the things that do increase the deficit majorly – tax cuts and defense spending – Republicans are all for them.  You see why Republicans can’t be believed when they talk about how they want to reduce the deficit?  President Bush says he’ll cut the deficit in half by 2009.  BULLLLLLSHIT.


 


At the same time, while cutting domestic programs won’t do much to bring down the deficit, they will do much to bring down the well-being of the country and the hopes of the people who depend on them – that is, everyone BUT the wealthy few.


 


While Senator Judd Gregg may have just cost millions of Medicaid dependencies their vital health care – not to mention all the other horrible cuts that the Senate budget, and the President’s and House budgets for that matter, makes – he taught us Democrats a very important lesson.  Republicans are two-faced bastards whose budgets are oozing with hypocrisy and fiscal irresponsibility.  Democrats need to make that case in the days, weeks, and months to come – and then counter with their own sensible, strong alternatives.


Punching Holes


Republicans Are Drilling In The Federal Budget And Pristine Wilderness Alike


 


I was planning on laying low for the most part on politics, but the Republican-generated whirlwind of political shit has drawn me out once more.  I gotta admit, sometimes the Republicans surprise me, despite being so ridiculously predictable. 


 


Last year, President Bush promised to domestic federal agencies to slash their budgets for fiscal year 2006, thus making a feeble and (as we shall see) utterly useless gesture of fiscal discipline as well as accomplishing the Republican objective of hammering domestic federal budgets to dust.  So it was no surprise that Bush and Congressional Republicans produced budgets that promised more of the same: slashing or freezing of domestic discretionary programs, large increases for what has become the Department of Carpet-Bombing Other Countries Without Justification (a.k.a. the Department of Defense), tax cuts geared towards the wealthiest elite, and deficits galore – just like all the other budgets produced since the Republicans took over the federal government in 2001. (Contrary to what the Heritage Foundation and other right-wingers say, both President Bush and Congressional Republicans have always held firm to cutting or freezing spending on domestic discretionary programs – though not as zealously as this year – and limiting new spending to a scattershot barrage of pork for privileged districts and states.  Don’t believe me?  Visit the federal budget page of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), which is only the most comprehensive, detailed, accurate, and brilliant source for information on fiscal policy, and pick any year from 2001 to 2005, inclusive.)


 


The President’s proposed budget, according to the relevant article from the CBPP, would cut $214 billion from domestic programs (excluding homeland security, which Bush and the Republicans will probably continue to underfund), including 16 percent in 2010 alone.  The President’s cuts, outside the first $18 billion for FY2006, are unspecified within “budget functions”, leaving ordinary Americans guessing as to which specific government programs they rely on and enjoy everyday will crumble and burn first.  Though, it won’t matter once the programs and services all start collapsing.  Most of the federal programs that benefit the bottom 99.5 percent of Americans will be cut.  Low-income entitlement programs will be cut; the President’s proposal calls for reducing child-care beneficiaries by 300 000 kids and food stamp beneficiaries by 300 000 people (Bush must really like the number 300 000.) as well as cutting Medicaid – health care for the poor – by $45 billion over 10 years. (Jesus would be proud, wouldn’t he?) Almost all of the broad federal functions that benefit the whole country and all its citizens – even the rich – will be cut.  Things that benefit the rich exclusively and immensely are still there – massive new tax cuts, pork, federal subsidies… the works, basically.  The richest 1 percent is gorging at the federal buffet line, while the rest of the country is getting the table scraps and leftovers – if that.  And this is all for deficit reduction, President Bush says?  According to the CBPP, total deficits over five years will increase by $29 billion rather than go down at all.  So all this budget-cutting is not related to deficit reduction in any way, but rather with the Republican ideology of less federal government activity in running the country and helping people in need.


 


But let’s be fair to President Bush – he’s not the only Washington motherfucker coming up with this shit.  In fact, turns out the entire Republican Party in Washington D.C. is one giant domestic budget-cutting motherfucker.  The Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled Senate both submitted their budgets, which looked remarkably similar to the President’s in both mass-slashing domestic funding as well as increasing the federal deficits.  The House plan would cut domestic discretionary programs by $216 billion (14 percent in 2010 alone) and increases the five-year deficit by $127 billion.  The House plan also includes $30 to $35 billion in cuts to low-income entitlement programs which include Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and so on.  “Compassionate conservative” my foot.


 


The Senate plan is just a little better in terms of cuts – $204 billion over five years – which is a somewhat better improvement over what came out of the Senate Budget Committee ($207 billion in cuts).  The Senate plan is also an improvement in terms of entitlement funding – while the original plan from the Senate Budget Committee called for an estimated $14 billion in Medicaid cuts, the Senate plan gets rid of those cuts entirely, thanks to an amendment sponsored by Senator Gordon Smith (R-Ore.).  Smith and six other courageous – or devious, as I see it – Republicans (Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), Norm Coleman (Minn.), Susan Collins (Me.), Mark DeWine (Ohio), Olympia Snowe (Me.), Arlen Specter (Pa.)) joined with a united Democratic caucus to pass the amendment by a 52-48 vote. (The reason I say devious is because I have the feeling that some of these guys are just positioning themselves for their political futures.  Chafee, Snowe, and DeWine are all up for reelection next year, and Coleman may be getting this in for his reelection in 2008 or even a potential Presidential run.  The only two genuine people I see here are Smith and Specter.)  But entitlement programs will still be cut by $23 billion over five years, and I’ve already mentioned the $204 billion in domestic discretionary cuts.  And the Senate plan increases the deficit by $217 billion – much more than either the House or White House plans – over five years, mostly because of a large tax cut proposed by Senator Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) that passed by a 55-45 vote.  I should note that there were a few traitor Democrats who voted for it – including, surprisingly enough, Senator Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.) who’s usually a pretty reliable Democratic vote.  Byrd wasn’t the only surprise traitor; on the nay side of the vote, we had two rock-ribbed Republicans – Pete Domenici (N.M.) and Ted Stevens (Alaska) – who voted against the tax cuts.


 


So big spending cuts, big tax cuts, and big deficits.  And no big government.  While Democrats struggle in futility to bring fiscal responsibility and active involvement in public life back to the U.S. federal government.  Yawn.  We’re getting used to this.  What else is new?  Well here’s what else is new: Republicans weren’t happy with just drilling gaping chasms in the federal budget, now they want to drill holes in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as well.


 


For years Republicans have sought to drill in ANWR.  The economic transportation and infrastructure necessary to support such an enterprise would devastate local wildlife, indigenous people, and the landscape and would completely ruin a pristine wildlife refuge.  Now, forgive me, but I always thought that refuge meant:



  1. Protection or shelter, as from danger or hardship.
  2. A place providing protection or shelter.
  3. A source of help, relief, or comfort in times of trouble.

Hmm… protection or shelter, as from danger or hardship… am I the only one who sees drilling as completely turning that concept on its head?  But remember, the Republicans don’t see the federal government playing a large role in the general welfare of the country.  I’m not kidding or exaggerating – ask any good Republican and s/he’d agree with how I just described his/her party.  Republicans always want business/private concerns or state/local governments to take care of things.  So if businesses want to drill in ANWR or Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, public interest be damned!  General welfare be damned!  The environment be damned!  We need our oil, dammit!


 


The truth is, drilling in ANWR is not only bad for the environment, but bad economically as well, because the petroleum won’t be available for twenty years and would supply just six months’ worth of fuel, according to the Defenders of Wildlife. (Note: The contents of this link are subject to change.) Those who argue that we need a “quick fix” to alleviate high gas prices are conveniently glossing over this fact.  Even if ANWR was bursting with oil-on-demand, would that justify drilling and ruining a pristine refuge set aside for its natural beauty and diversity of wildlife?  This “human needs > nature and the environment” mantra chanted by bone-headed conservatives and Republicans is utterly ridiculous because the truth is human needs EQUALS nature and the environment!  But don’t catch any “pro-business” or “pro-growth” Republicans admitting to that – they might just have to kill you.


 


The difference between now and yesteryear is that the political winds have shifted.  ANWR drilling has always been pushed in the Republican-dominated House but rejected by close votes in the more moderate Senate.  Because the Senate now has even more Republicans than it did last year, the Senate was able to slip ANWR drilling funds in the filibuster-proof budget, sneak it past a Democratic filibuster, and ram it down America’s throat by a close 51-49 vote.  By the way, damn Senators Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye (both Democrats from Hawai’i) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) for voting for Arctic drilling.  On the other hand, the House’s Budget Chairman, Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa), whom I normally despise, actually did something courageous and refused to hijack the budget by including Arctic drilling in the budget.  So this year, it’s the Senate that wants drilling and the House that doesn’t, instead of the other way around.


 


Arctic drilling isn’t “for sure” yet – while the President supports it and the House is likely to approve, details still have to be worked out in conference between the House and Senate.  What is for sure, however, is that Republicans in the White House and U.S. Congress alike are intent on devastating domestic programs and the environment alike, while Democrats are united in defending and supporting them.  And that’s why we need more Democrats in Congress and less Republicans.  I hope you all remember that come Election Day in 2006.