Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ripples of Budget Cuts

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Over a lifetime of watching the political dances and games, there are a few things that can always be counted upon. The deficit hawks invariably claim that they are really, really, really only interested in "cutting out the fat honest." Except that public sector budgets have been slashed so many times over these last few years, the politicians are not only slicing meat and bone, they are carving up the gourmet cuts, all in the name of some nebulous "greater good" and "sacrifices must be made by the courageous." From Friday's (June 17) NY Times:

Lawmakers and aides say the negotiators quickly gobbled up low-hanging fruit like trimming agriculture subsidies and selling more of the telecommunications spectrum to generate revenue. There is a general consensus that federal workers are going to have to contribute more to their pensions, though the details are still to be determined. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation will collect higher fees from stable companies, and some idle federal property could be up for sale.


To get there, negotiators are going to have to make some excruciating choices about federal health care and safety-net programs, as well as the tax structure. At the same time, they need to reach a deal that not only can be sold to a bipartisan majority in the House and Senate, but also is credible enough to assure investors worldwide that Washington is getting serious about taking care of its financial health.


Republicans want to see Democrats embrace more changes in Medicare and Medicaid, the federal health programs for older Americans and the poor.
Former adviser to presidents of both parties, David Gergen, was all over the AARP sell out with praise for their "courage":
If so, the willingness of AARP to be at the table for negotiations would greatly strengthen the courage of the Obama administration to engage on the issue at long last and could help the country solve an important piece of the budget riddle that we face. Everyone knows that our entitlement programs, especially Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, are financially unsustainable on their current trajectories. If we are to avoid a debt crisis, reforms are essential. But the politics of entitlement reform are treacherous: Democrats don't want to cut benefits and Republicans don't want to raise taxes. Both will ultimately be needed.

Experience says that Social Security should be much easier to "save" than Medicare. We were last able to overhaul and strengthen Social Security nearly 30 years ago with the Greenspan commission. I was in the White House at the time and saw that it can be done, especially with two keys in place: bipartisan political leadership (in that case, President Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill) and the willingness of AARP to go along.
Now that takes a really big pair of brass to bring up the Greenspan commission since the purpose of the Greenspan commission was to account for and accommodate the coming bulge of retiring Baby Boomers. Now that the Boomers are actually starting to retire and calling due all those Treasury bonds (you know, those IOUs in a cabinet somewhere), Gergen and the rest of the Beltway Village Idiots Courtiers most trumpet how awful it is to have these safety net programs yet we don't dare raise taxes on the well off after thirty years of looting of the treasury. Of course, it's so very easy for someone like Gergen to call for courage in slashing programs that he's protected from needing due to his years as a courtier in good standing.

Michael Hiltzik, a columnist for the LA Times, had this column today (Sunday, June 19) actually presenting some reality:
But what explains the headlong rush in Washington to use the current crisis to undermine the foundations of economic security even further?

Specifically, I'm talking about a new proposal to rob from Social Security to fund a continuing tax break for people who don't need Social Security — the wealthy.

Make no mistake: This is a bipartisan effort. It started back in December, when President Obama capitulated to the GOP on a budget deal by cutting the payroll tax, which funds Social Security. Advocates for the program pointed out then the shortcomings of this approach: It was targeted inefficiently and unfairly, skewing to the upper middle class and hurting lower-income families in comparison with the Making Work Pay tax credit it replaced.

Even more troubling, it blew a hole in the financing mechanism for Social Security by reducing payroll tax revenue by roughly $110 billion for the year. It was plain then, as it is now, that once you've cut a tax, it's ever harder to restore it.
There it is. Please do click on the link and read Hiltzik's entire column. He lays it all out there. Not that he is saying anything new as much of what he is saying has been said by folks at places like FDL for years now.

Beyond the destruction of the social safety net, there are other destructive aspects to the continuing deficit hawkery. This past Wednesday, the Denver Post reported on the surprise from 3rd term Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn that his signing on to a letter requesting the slashing of funding for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Grants was going to affect the folks at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Greeley, CO. Congressman Lamborn, idiot or ideologue? Or is there a difference?

The USA Today had this on Friday on budget cuts affecting the launch of weather satellites:
The satellite, which had been scheduled to launch in 2016, will be postponed 18 months because of spending cuts and delays. The threat during that gap is that National Weather Service forecasts will become fuzzier, with the paths of hurricanes and tornadoes even less predictable.


The satellite at stake is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Joint Polar Satellite System.

The program is crucial for weather forecasting because polar satellites circle Earth every 90 minutes, scanning the entire planet twice every day. By flying only 517 miles above the surface, polar satellites give a sharper view than stationary satellites that float 22,300 miles above a specific place.

The problem is that expensive polar satellites are built to last five years, although they have fuel for seven. The looming gap would occur after a satellite scheduled for launch in September ends its useful life.


Forecasters issued warnings five days ahead of tornadoes that struck Tuscaloosa, Ala., and five other states in April. A barrage of 312 tornadoes swept across the Southeast, killing 321 people. On storm day, forecasters gave warnings averaging 27 minutes before actual touchdowns.

Likewise, when a tornado struck Joplin, Mo., killing 151 on May 22, forecasters gave warnings averaging 24 minutes before strikes.
Are we going to get advance warnings of all tornadoes and hurricanes even if we have this satellite? Of course not but every little bit does help. I know I was very appreciative in 2004 when I saw the hurricane warnings for Charley, Frances, and Jeanne. And even a few minutes warning on tornadoes can be the difference between life and death.

Budget cuts affect people at all levels. Public safety in Costa Mesa, CA or Camden, NJ. Firefighter layoffs across the country. Or teacher layoffs. Social worker layoffs. But we don't dare think about raising taxes on the rich, do we?

And because I can:
(RIP Big Man)

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